FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Rick Fuentes
(St. Paul) – June 23, 2021 – Following reports that legislators reached an agreement to spend $250 million to support essential workers who stepped up and kept our state safe and running during COVID, workers who are pushing to make this a reality spoke out about the importance of this first step and the need to make sure that workers who were left behind get the support they so desperately deserve as soon as possible.
Troy Bowman, a Minneapolis janitor and SEIU Local 26 member who missed a month of work and lost pay the whole time because of COVID, shared why he fought so hard to get to this point:
“I want to thank all involved for supporting the measure that sets aside $250 million dollars for essential workers. It means that frontline workers who put their lives at risk for everyone, and felt we were not being heard, have been heard,” said Bowman. “Allocating these funds is a start towards paying back the Minnesotans who have given so much to keep us safe and our state running during COVID.”
“The fight will continue. It should not be this complicated to make sure the thousands of nurses, janitors, security officers, day care providers, warehouse workers and other frontline, essential workers are compensated for their sacrifices,” continued Bowman. “Our work to raise our voices will go on. We need to make sure that money finally gets into the hands of the hardworking Minnesotans who gave so much over this last year and specifically that it reaches the workers who lost time when they quarantined or simply recovered from being vaccinated.”
The coalition of groups, including SEIU, the Minnesota Nurses Association, Education Minnesota, We Make MN, AFSCME Council 65, Unidos MN, CTUL, the Awood Center, the AFL-CIO and others, also are pushing 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 are pushing the Governor and legislators 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 that sacrifice to help make these essential workers whole.
The working group must ensure that workers have a seat at the table in this decision-making process and that money gets into the hands of workers as soon as possible.
“While this commitment represents a good start, nurses and essential workers expect legislators to recognize the sacrifices we’ve made to keep us all safe and the state running during this pandemic,” said Mary C. Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “Because let’s be clear, bonuses are for bankers. For workers, this is backpay. This is making up for what we lost in pay and benefits while sitting in quarantine or waiting for tests.”
Representative Cedrick Fraizer, the lead author of the HF41 – the Essential Worker Emergency Leave Act bill that passed the Minnesota House during the regular legislative session – reacted to the deal:
“I am appreciative of the efforts of Speaker Hortman and Governor Walz on securing these resources for our essential workers,” said Frazier. “However, I remain disappointed that The Chamber Of Commerce and the Hospital Association were given veto power, by the GOP, over the legislation that Senator Murphy and I carried. Their veto has closed the door on millions of federal dollars that would have made essential workers whole.”
Senator Erin Murphy, lead author of the Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act in the Senate shared this:
“I am hopeful about the inclusion of $250 million dollars in the final budget and appreciate the efforts of the Speaker and the Governor.
“The hardline efforts to block this legislation by the Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Hospital Association is troubling. The crisis of a global pandemic demanded exceptional sacrifices from frontline workers. They stepped into the risk, with courage, duty, and with care. In response, their employers are using their power to block efforts to restore workers‘ lost time and wages. That is deeply disappointing.
“I am committed to work with Representative Frazier and frontline workers as we build on the important work and success of this session.”
The Emergency Workers 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.