Sen. Elizabeth Warren is urging Congress to enact extra protections for front-line workers — including medical, grocery, janitorial and child care providers — in its next coronavirus relief package.
“Essential workers are the backbone of our response to the coronavirus,” Warren told The Washington Post. “They are putting their health and the health of their loved ones on the line to keep our country running — and we need to have their backs.”
While much of America shelters at home, millions of people still are working at hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, day-care centers and warehouses across the country. Many report working longer hours, often without adequate protective gear such as masks and gloves, as they scramble to meet heightened demand during a pandemic that has claimed 110,000 lives, including 20,000 in the United States.
The proposed guidelines would require companies to provide workers with adequate protective gear and notify employees who may have been exposed to an infected colleague. They also seek protections for whistleblowers who speak out about unsafe working conditions, extra funding for child-care centers and free health care for essential workers, many of whom earn little more than the minimum wage.
The proposal also mandates workers receive “robust premium pay” retroactive for work done during the crisis.
The measures would build on the $2.2 trillion Cares Act President Trump signed into law March 27. The Cares Act expands unemployment benefits and provides checks of as much as $1,200 for millions of Americans and sets aside $349 billion for small business loans.
“The needs of all workers must be at the forefront of the next round of policymaking to address the coronavirus crisis, including keeping workers on payroll even when they must stay home,” the proposal says.
In addition, the lawmakers say Congress should hold corporations accountable for stimulus money they receive during the pandemic. Taxpayers and workers, they say, should have a say in how federal funds are used.
“Congress should ensure that any taxpayer dollars handed to corporations go to help workers, not wealthy CEOs, rich shareholders, or the President’s cronies,” they wrote. “Any federal funding should be designed to ensure that employers cannot skirt the rules by firing or furloughing workers or reducing their hours or benefits to access a tax credit or avoid a worker protection requirement.”