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Essential workers deserve hazard pay, not just praise and thanks

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, July 24, 2021

By Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, President,
Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

Over the course of the pandemic, we have praised our essential workers over and over again.

Essential workers on the front lines sacrificed their lives and the safety of their families to provide us with food, care for our children, manufacture our goods, deliver packages to our front steps and provide medical care.

They were lifted up as heroes. They were printed as cartoons with flying capes and superhero masks. We all gave them a collective “pat on the back” for a job well done.

Too many essential workplaces went on for months as “business as usual” while the growing pandemic engulfed our communities.

Real thanks for essential workers: American Rescue Plan, Minnesota Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act

While essential workers were carrying out their duties, they were also having to fight for proper protective equipment. Essential workers rallied together to make homemade masks. Frontline homecare workers used garbage bags as protective coverings when they had nothing else. Even when Personal Protective Equipment was made widely available, it was often too little too late.

In some essential workplaces, managers were betting on how many workers would get sick as a pastime game. And when workers did start to fall ill from the disease, they had to fight for paid time off. Many had to quarantine and take time off using personal time, or unpaid time. Facing no other options, some would even report to work sick, potentially exposing coworkers.

Essential workers persevered through one of the worst global disasters in our history. Now, it is time to put real support behind the superhero capes and pats on the back.

Over the last six months, essential workers in unionized fields have faced bargaining sessions with employers offering zero wage increases and cuts to healthcare coverage. Essential workers without collective bargaining power have faced even harsher cutbacks and austerity.

Thankfully, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act and the Minnesota Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act, we have an opportunity to put well-earned hazard pay into the hands of the workers who never wavered when we needed it most.

Now that these critical pieces of legislation have been passed, let us work together to make sure the rules and implementation reach those who need it most. While it will never be enough to repay their sacrifices, it is a small recognition of the enormous value of their service to our communities.

Thank you to our essential workers on the front lines. This is just the start. Here at the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, we will continue to fight for your recognition, value and respect in your workplaces and in our communities.

Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou was re-elected December 11, 2019 to a second four-year term as president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

Contact MRLF president Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou at 612-321-5670 or chelsie@minneapolisunions.org.


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