Elizabeth Warren Wants Health Protections, Higher Pay for Essential Workers

April 13, 2020 Updated: April 13, 2020

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) announced a list of compensations they say essential workers are entitled to because of the risk they are putting themselves in to provide for the public.

The lawmakers unveiled the “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” on Monday, which is meant to protect frontline workers as they risk infection to provide basic services. They called for the next coronavirus relief package to include the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

“Nearly 60 million Americans are still working to keep our internet running, to deliver our groceries, to make sure we have electricity, and to care for the sick. In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote,” said Representative Khanna.

The Department of Homeland Security defines essential workers as those who “protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”

The lawmakers argue that essential workers are at a higher risk for infection since some are working without proper protective equipment. They include people in virus research and testing, pharmacies, hospitals, first responders, mass transit, agriculture, food and restaurant, energy, water, telecom, gas stations, manufacturing, funeral services, sanitation, janitors, banking, military, childcare, and media.

Warren and Khanna want all essential workers to have access to free safety equipment, have “robust premium” pay which is retroactive to the start of the pandemic, paid family sick leave of up to 3 months, and quality childcare.

“Essential workers are the backbone of our nation’s response to coronavirus,” said Senator Warren. “We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve. The next relief package must put all workers front and center—but it must also specifically include the policies in our Essential Workers Bill of Rights.”

The Democratic congress members also want the Essential Workers Bill of Rights to include protection for any whistleblower and accountability measures that hold CEOs responsible to their workers.

Warren’s Senate colleagues have also introduced legislation to compensate frontline workers.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) unveiled the Heroes Fund on April 8, which would give essential workers such as nurses, grocery store workers, building cleaners, and mail carriers a government-funded pay increase of up to $25,000 during the pandemic.

“Workers in hospitals and nursing homes, in the service sector and public safety, and throughout our economy are risking their lives during this public health emergency to keep our citizens safe, and their paychecks should reflect that. Frontline workers also need proper protection from the virus at work,” said Senator Brown.