Necessity of Ensuring Safety of Essential Workers

The federal government needs to distribute hazard pay to essential employees who are sacrificing their health during the pandemic.

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By Gabby Lozano, Deputy Opinion Editor

Millions of essential workers have continued to work during the pandemic and have kept the country running day after day. But by doing so, many are putting themselves and their families at risk, since they’re going to work without guaranteed protection. Given that these workers are sacrificing their health — and even their lives — to keep society functioning, Congress needs to compensate these employees for their efforts by passing legislation that gives essential workers hazard pay. Especially since many of these employees including school nutrition staff, grocery store workers, janitors and others receive low wages that cannot sustain their basic needs

The average salary for a cafeteria worker nationwide is $11 per hour and $7.25-$9.00 per hour for a grocery store clerk. While these wages are above many state’s minimum wages, these workers still struggle to survive.

The $2 trillion stimulus package passed in March by Congress won’t help many of these workers either. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act uses the unemployment insurance system and direct deposits, which only assists unemployed individuals, not essential workers — many of whom barely make minimum wage. Furthermore, the stimulus does not cover college students, which as many as 75% work, some essential employees working to support themselves and their families. 

Moreover, many essential workers lack proper protection and are left to obtain their own personal protective equipment, making these workers more susceptible to contracting and spreading the virus. This hinders them from doing their job and also affects individuals that rely on their service. Such is the case for Durham Public Schools, which shut down its meal distribution program after an employee contracted the virus. 

Essential workers cannot keep going to work, especially without protective equipment. Representative Ro Khanna and Senator Elizabeth Warren are drafting the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, which would require employers to provide their employees with PPE at no cost to the employees.  

Senate Democrats are also working on a relief bill for COVID-19, which could include a pay increase of $25,000 in hazard pay for essential workers until 2021. The bill also would give these employees a one-time $15,000 bonus, and an additional $13 per hour. These raises would be available to individuals making less than $200,000 per year. 

These kinds of policies are vital to assisting essential workers during the pandemic, and it is necessary for Congress to recognize the importance of essential employees so that they can be compensated fairly and continue working safely. 

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]