If there’s one good thing that this coronavirus pandemic is doing for the U.S., it’s showing how exposed yet how important our workforce — our essential workers — are to keeping everybody fed and healthy.
Before the COVID-19 stopped most of the world, people may not have given much notice to how important workers are at grocery stores, gas stations and those in manufacturing. We still need toilet paper, not to mention fruit, vegetables and meat.
Now, it’s opening up conversations about how vulnerable those workers are — not just when it comes to things like paid sick leave but their wages in general.
While some companies have stepped up and given those workers a type of sick leave, as well as bonus pay, or hazard pay, it’s not mandated. Those unprotected workers are still risking their health each day, in jobs that have now become the most important.
“The short answer is yes, those conversations are happening,” U.S. Congressman Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) said Wednesday on La Crosse Talk PM of getting workers a type of hazard pay. “Will it materialize? That’s another matter, but I think it is justified.
“Talk about unsung heroes in our own community. … I’d hope there’d be some recognition, some bonus payment in that regard. But, whether we can actually accomplish it is another matter.”
What Congress did last month was pass a bill that’s now signed into law getting some of those benefits to people who may be affected by the virus. Things like paid sick leave for businesses with less than 500 employees, through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
But what workers really need is paid sick leave even if there’s not a global pandemic.
“We don’t have a national paid sick leave,” Kind said. “We do, right now, for 14 days. Plus, paid family and medical leave. We’ve never had that on a national level.”
Kind pointed out some businesses are stepping up to cover those workers, “but it wasn’t universal and it wasn’t required. That’s something I think we have to look at because we’re one of the last developed nations in the entire world that doesn’t do that.”
Unlike the U.S., nearly 200 other countries around the world guarantee paid sick leave to workers.
Other things FFCRA covers is paid leave for someone caring for a sick child due to the virus, as well as COVID-19 testing. It shores up funding for certain nutritional programs and provides emergency unemployment funding to states, among other things.