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Pass the Essential Workers Bill of Rights: All Workers Deserve to be Valued and Protected

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) will be introducing the Essential Workers Bill of Rights into the House this week. They unveiled their initial proposal on April 13 and since then have had 8 Senators and 47 other Representatives — both Democratic and Republican — sign on in support.

It’s unfortunate that it has taken a pandemic for the world to realize how essential our working class truly is. Growing up working class myself, I never once questioned how essential janitors, fast food employees, delivery drivers, and so on were. And I also understood the realities they faced being underpaid, overworked, and lacking any benefits or an adequate social safety net.

Now, this pandemic has severely exacerbated those conditions for essential workers. They’re not in a position to work from home or take time off, to protect themselves and their families. Instead they’re working long shifts on their own, dealing with an increase of customers without any shields at their registers, gloves, or masks — and thus increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19. People are risking their lives for $8 an hour when their CEOs earn millions a year, and often without sufficient health benefits. 

The Essential Workers Bill of Rights would provide essential workers with hazard pay, health care, guaranteed sick leave, workplace protections, accountability (so that relief aid doesn’t go straight into the pockets of executives), and so much more. The bill is in direct response to the immediate health needs of these workers and their families, who are risking their health daily, and it could help alleviate the undue stress they’re under. 

When you look at the countries that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party hail, you see exactly the kind of services and protections needed to weather a crisis while sustaining a thriving economy. Take Denmark for example: there are HALF as many coronavirus-related deaths per capita than there are here in the U.S. At the same time their unemployment rate is around 4 to 5 percent compared to ours which is upwards of 14 percent. 

Denmark’s COVID19 response package put workers first and any money going to companies was intended to help the workers and not the company — such as paying companies to keep employees on the payroll (reimbursing up to 90% of wages) and paying fixed costs (with conditions forcing companies to not buy back stocks or evade taxes while suspending dividends.) The Trump administration has taken a vastly different approach — even warning against becoming like Denmark, despite how much it is flourishing under current conditions. 

The Essential Workers Bill of Rights is a significant step towards recognizing the value of America’s working people. With it, we can come out of this crisis into a more equitable world and hopefully carry these values with us into future legislation. 

The Essential Workers Bill of Rights would ensure:

  • Workplace-appropriate health and safety protections, including personal protective equipment.
  • Fair and equitable hazard pay that recognizes the higher risks that essential workers are facing, prioritizing workers who earn low wages and thus need it most.
  • Protection for all collective bargaining agreements so that they cannot be changed or dissolved by employers during this crisis.
  • Truly universal paid sick leave and family and medical leave so all essential workers, without exception, can care for themselves, family members, or dependents.
  • Protections for whistleblowers so workers who witness unsafe conditions can identify concerns without fear of retaliation.
  • An end to employers’ misclassification of workers as “independent contractors” as a way to avoid providing the full suite of benefits and protections available to employees.
  • Health care for all workers during this crisis, regardless of immigration status, and no-cost health care for employees who lose eligibility for health care coverage.
  • Guaranteed child care to ensure essential workers have access to reliable, safe, healthy, and high-quality child care.
  • A place at the table in setting safety and compensation standards in response to the coronavirus to ensure we are better prepared going forward.
  • Accountability for corporations so that taxpayers dollars go to help workers, not wealthy CEOs, shareholders, or political cronies.

When a worker feels sick, they’ll have the health coverage necessary to get tested and not have to force themselves to go back to work and potentially infect others. It means that they can rest and recover without fear of losing their job and the ability to provide for their family. More importantly, it guarantees protective measures: gloves, n95 masks, regular sanitization and sterilization of their workplace, shields around their registers, ability to mark where customers should stand, and so on. To CEOs, these workers may be considered low-wage, low-skilled, disposable, and good for business… but to us, they are our family members, friends, neighbors, or even ourselves. All American workers deserve to be valued, respected, and protected! 

Without this bill, we’ll continue to see a rise in deaths of essential workers. We’ll continue to see corporate executives and shareholders pocketing millions while our community members on the frontlines die for a couple dollars an hour. The pandemic didn’t create this inequality, for too long workers have been asked to disregard their health, their families, and their needs. At the turn of the 20th century we saw workers fighting for the 40-hour work week, dying for a living wage that enabled them to do anything other than work. That was over 100 years ago. It’s time us working Americans banded together to bring us into the 21st century with full-dignity for all workers.

You can take action today to help ensure we pass this bill. Sign the petition to your legislators and then call them to make your voice heard. It’s important for us to speak up and do what’s right in these uncertain times.

By: Raquel Parra, Courage California Policy Manager