SAINT PAUL, Minn – Frontline workers who sacrificed during the COVID-19 pandemic spoke out Wednesday on the need for speedy, fair compensation from a $250 million fund created by the Legislature and administered by a new, nine-member working group.
“The table is set, it’s time to dig in,” said Mary C. Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “Lawmakers have been promising to care for essential, frontline workers. It’s time to make sure these funds go to back pay and fulfill the needs of those workers who had to sacrifice pay and benefits during the pandemic.”
The coalition of groups, including SEIU, MNA, Education Minnesota, We Make MN, AFSCME Council 65, Unidos MN, CTUL, the Awood Center, the AFL-CIO and others, pushed legislators to make sure this money is used in a way that begins the process of supporting the workers who gave so much this last year. The groups will continue to advocate the working group on multiple points regarding this money:
The working group must ensure that this money is easily accessible by the frontline, essential workers who have earned it through their sacrifices for us during this pandemic.
The working group must ensure what workers get is proportional to their sacrifice to help make these essential workers whole.
The working group must ensure that workers have a seat at the table in the decision-making process and that money gets into the hands of workers as soon as possible.
Odemaris Mercado, a janitor for ABM who cleans the Cargill building and is an Executive Board member of her union, SEIU Local 26, shared the urgency of this work:
“This $250 million is a great start, but essential workers like me need action. When I had COVID I thought I was going to die. While I missed work I got no pay from my employer. I used all my vacation and sick time – and my union gave me $300 – but I still am struggling to pay my rent and bills. I had to ask family and friends for food and money to support my family. I hope the working group listens to workers, works fast and gets money into the hands of essential workers as soon as possible.”
Workers have been fighting for essential worker pay since the special legislative sessions in the fall of 2020. After the Minnesota House of Representatives passed the Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act, authored by Rep. Cedrick Fraizer, the Senate GOP blocked the same bill authored by Sen. Erin Murphy.
MAPE Vice President Angela Halseth shared how this is an important first step:
“We are glad to see this taskforce get started, but it is just that – a start. I and my colleagues spent the last year dealing with outbreak after outbreak in the correctional facilities. We did everything we could to stop the spread but still we got sick, our families got sick, and our clients got sick,” said Halseth. “We are like hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who endured over the last year while on the front lines. We look forward to collaborating with the taskforce to bring these stories to the forefront and find ways to make people whole again.”
The Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act would have required employers to give their workers quarantine pay or time off to recover from vaccination; many businesses qualify for a dollar-for-dollar, up-front federal tax credit to cover the cost of such payment. Worker advocates say the refusal by the Senate GOP, under pressure from by the Chamber of Commerce and hospital executives, to ask employers to do right by their workers left millions of federal dollars on the table that could have benefitted essential workers.