FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“I thought you said we were essential?!”: Workers reject GOP proposal to exclude building service, food, childcare and other staff most at risk
(St. Paul) – September 30, 2021 – Essential workers responded to a plan released by the Republican members of the Frontline Worker Pay Work Group with disappointment and encouraged lawmakers to work together to find a solution that does not exclude essential workers from the frontline worker pay fund created by Governor Walz and the legislature.
“My parents work in the food service industry, and unfortunately, they got COVID. My parents are essential workers, and they shouldn’t be excluded,” said Yamileth Flores, an organizer with the immigrant-led statewide community organization Unidos.
Several workers spoke in the State Capitol Press Room after three Republican legislators, who are members of the Frontline Workers Pay Working Group, offered their first written policy proposal for how to divide the funds, handing out a one-page flyer, more than three weeks after the deadline set by the legislature to complete a proposal on how to spend $250 million set aside in budget negotiations.
The Republican proposal would offer compensation only to “Nurses, first responders, corrections officers, LTC workers and hospice providers,” excluding building service, food, childcare and other workers often most at risk of COVID exposure. “This is who we think was worthy,” said Senator Karin Housley (39 – R) at the Capitol.
“I am appalled,” said Troy Bowman, who works in building services in downtown Minneapolis. “When leaders came on TV and declared us all Essential Workers, there were not different categories. We didn’t have the option to work from home. We didn’t have PPE. I was exposed to COVID; I caught it. We lost people who were not in those categories [included in the Republican proposal].”
Nancy Carabantes, a meatpacker from Worthington and UFCW Local 663 steward, said in a statement: “My coworkers and I were deemed essential, so we kept showing up for work so all of us would have food available to buy for our families. You and other Minnesotans required this of us. We are proud we did our part. Now we are not considered essential enough? Please, do your job and come up with a solution that includes and values all frontline essential workers.”
“Whether we took care of you last year in the hospitals as you were sick and fighting COVID, or you stocked the grocery shelves so that we could all feed our families, or whether you took care of our children so that we could go to work and do these jobs, essential workers need to be recognized, and this needs to be concluded as quickly as possible,” said Rachel Hanneman, a certified registered nurse from Savage, Minnesota, who has worked in COVID intensive care units. “We went to work for the last 18 months. And now we are asking you to go to work for us.”
A proposal already presented during several weeks of hearings by Representatives Winkler and Frazier and Senator Murphy would open an application process for Essential Workers who were directly exposed to COVID, offering a minimum of $375 per worker, depending on how many of an estimated 667,000 workers apply and certify their eligibility.
These legislators and workers’ organizations pointed out that several hundred dollars, while an insufficient reward for workers’ sacrifices, would be economically meaningful to low-income workers who have often had to take unpaid time off from work during the pandemic. They also advocated to expand the pool of funding at the legislature, using federal funds and a state budget surplus.
The $250 million figure was agreed upon as a target during budget negotiations after Senate Republicans blocked a bill (HF 41) that would have required employers to pay for time workers missed due to COVID-related quarantine and sick time. The legislature would reconvene in a Special Session to approve a Working Group proposal and has the power, with the Governor, to allocate a different amount of funds.
“Epidemiologists, therapists at State veterans’ homes and correctional facilities, meat plant inspectors and many other MAPE members work hard to keep Minnesotans safe from COVID-19. All committee members say they support essential workers and agree that the $250 million fund is not enough. Let’s continue working to get a plan that includes all essential workers,” said MAPE Vice President Angie Halseth.
In a written statement, Deb Tauer, President of Minnesota Licensed Practical Nurse Association (MLPNA), also called for speedy action from the Working Group and rejected calls to exclude key workers.
“Excluding any frontline workers is a slap in the face to someone who put their life at risk for our communities,” said Deb Tauer, LPN, President of MLPNA. “Without the school workers who watched our children, many of our nurses would have had to stay home when schools went to remote learning. Without the food service workers and store clerks, we would have struggled to keep our families healthy. It was the sacrifices of all frontline workers that gave us the ability to show up and care for our communities.”