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Elizabeth Warren urges Congress to enact more protections for ‘essential’ workers

The Massachusetts Democrat and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) are unveiling a 10-part proposal that includes higher pay, safety protections and job security

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to make sure essential workers receive higher wages, safety equipment and other protections during the growing pandemic. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

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.

Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) plan Monday to introduce a 10-point “bill of rights” that calls on lawmakers to go beyond the $2.2 trillion Cares Act to ensure higher wages, universal paid sick leave and job security for all employees — including independent contractors and gig workers — deemed essential during the public heath crisis.

Read the proposal: Essential workers 'bill of rights'

“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.

Grocery workers are beginning to die of coronavirus

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.

Senator pushes for guidelines to keep food retail workers, consumers safe at supermarkets

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.”