Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, pictured at a rally with President Donald Trump in January, told Iowans that if they do not return to work when asked they will lose unemployment benefits.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, pictured at a rally with President Donald Trump in January, told Iowans last Friday that if they do not return to work when asked they will lose unemployment benefits. (Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

"Only in Trump's America": Despite Covid-19, Employees in Texas and Iowa Told to Get Back to Work or Lose Unemployment Benefits

"I feel like either I'm going to lose my business and everything I worked for, or I'm going to get sick."

Eoin Higgins

If you don't return to work in Texas and Iowa because you fear getting sick from the coronavirus you risk losing unemployment benefits. 

That's the directive from the respective states' two Republican governors, who separately issued guidelines to that effect as part of an effort to reopen their economies despite warnings from public health officials.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced last Friday that anyone in the state refusing to return to work due to concerns over contracting Covid-19, which has as of press time killed over 59,000 Americans, would be considered as a "voluntary quit" from their job and ineligible for unemployment benefits. 

"If you're an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work and they decide not to, that's a voluntary quit," said Reynolds. "Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money."

In a guidance memo issued Monday, the Iowa Workforce Development agency urged employers to turn in workers who choose to prioritize their personal health and safety over demands they return to work.

"Businesses should report employees who refuse to return to work without good reason or who quit their jobs as soon as possible," the memo declared.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot on Monday issued an order reopening his state's economy for May 1, meaning Texans who do not return to work could also lose access to unemployment benefits.

"I feel like either I'm going to lose my business and everything I worked for, or I'm going to get sick," restaurant owner Kimberly West told the Texas Tribune of the governor's decision. 

In comments to the Tribune, Texas AFL-CIO president Rick Levy said he was angered by the governor's decision.

"It makes me so mad that [the governor's office] talks about, 'If workers aren't feeling good, they should stay home'" said Levy. "That would be a lot easier to do if you had sick-leave benefits, but the state has consistently refused to provide any paid leave at all."

As Slate's Elliot Hannon wrote Wednesday, the treatment of workers is part of Covid-19's unequal impacts on people of differing economic circumstances around the country.

"As has been the case throughout the pandemic so far, those bearing the economic brunt of the virus have been the country's paycheck-to-paycheck class, which is far larger than you'd think," wrote Hannon. "The fervor to reopen—whether it's safe or not—will compel these workers to put themselves between the virus and people sitting on Zoom calls and ordering deliveries online."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Assange Makes Final Appeal Against US Extradition

"If Julian Assange is not free, neither are we," said a protester at a Friday demonstration against the WikiLeaks founder's impending transfer. "None of us is free."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Payoff for 40 Years of Dark Money': Supreme Court Delivers for Corporate America

"It was the conservative court's larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans' health and safety," warned one expert.

Jake Johnson ·

NARAL Pro-Choice Endorses Fetterman—Who Vows to End Senate Filibuster to Protect Abortion Rights

"We know we can count on him to boldly fight for abortion rights and access," said the head of one of the nation's largest reproductive rights advocacy groups.

Jon Queally ·

Texas Panel Denounced Over Attempt to Rebrand Slavery as 'Involuntary Relocation'

One progressive group called the proposal "a blatant attempt to whitewash history to fit a racist worldview."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo