Essential workers hoping to see bigger paychecks during the pandemic will have to wait as Congress tackles issues other than hazard pay.
A Democratic plan released three weeks ago would increase front-line workers’ wages by as much as $25,000 for the year, but the proposal is unlikely to make it into the next piece of stimulus legislation. Congressional leaders have been racing to hammer out a deal this week on an interim coronavirus relief package centered around additional aid to small businesses.
Democrats have used their leverage in the negotiations to try and secure more funding for cities and states, as well as hospitals and coronavirus testing programs. But hazard pay for essential workers, like many other Democratic proposals, has taken a back seat in talks with Republicans. The pay premiums would have to go into a subsequent relief package, if they materialize at all.
Hazard pay for essential workers, like many other Democratic proposals, has taken a back seat in talks with Republicans.
The Senate could pass the latest measure for small businesses as early as Tuesday, provided the two sides reach an agreement on including aid to cities and states, one of the outstanding issues remaining. The House would take action shortly afterward and would send the bill to Trump’s desk for signing.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) joined the chorus calling for an increase in pay for front-line workers, saying such a provision should be funded by the federal government and included in upcoming stimulus legislation.
“This crisis is not over yet, and as long as these workers continue to work and expose themselves to the virus, they should be properly compensated,” Cuomo said in a press conference. “I am calling on the federal government to provide hazard pay to these frontline workers and give them a 50 percent bonus because they are the true heroes in this crisis.”
Hazard pay ― the idea that a worker who’s put in unusual danger should be compensated extra for it ― has emerged as a top demand by employees putting their health, and the health of their families, on the line amid the coronavirus outbreak. Workers in health care facilities, grocery stores, meatpacking plants, transit systems and other workplaces are itching for a pay premium as they clock in during a nearly nationwide lockdown.
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Many companies have boosted worker pay temporarily during the pandemic by varying amounts. Grocery chains like Whole Foods and Kroger, for instance, have increased wages by $2 per hour. The poultry processor Sanderson Farms has offered a dollar-per-hour “attendance bonus.” The meat processor JBS, which has had to close plants due to outbreaks among its workforce, has negotiated a $4-per-hour increase with the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union said Sunday.
But many workers have seen no pay increases at all, and those who have don’t necessarily feel their pay raises are commensurate with the dangers of working in the middle of COVID-19. Some have launched petitions calling on their employers to match or surpass temporary pay hikes instituted by their competitors. Others have asked for time-and-a-half pay during the pandemic.
The Democratic plan would go far beyond what most employers have done so far, although the proposal is still a work in progress. The measure Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his colleagues unveiled earlier this month would provide front-line workers with an extra $13 per hour worked, from the start of the pandemic through the end of this year.
The pay boost would be capped at $25,000 for those earning below $200,000 per year and at $5,000 for those earning more. The same proposal includes a one-time incentive payment of $15,000 for new employees who choose to work in health care, home care and emergency response during the pandemic.
Under the plan, employers engaged in “essential work” could apply for the funds, which would be added to workers’ paychecks as a line item. The entire fund would be funded by the federal government, not by employers.
Democrats did not specify all the occupations eligible for the “Heroes Fund,” as it was billed, but in addition to health care workers, they singled out grocery store employees, postal workers, sanitation workers and others as examples of employees who would qualify.
“For these Americans, working at home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option,” Schumer said. “They are in the line of fire day in and day out.”