Frontline workers spoke out Thursday morning in support of legislation providing up to 100 hours of emergency paid leave for frontline workers forced to stay home due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure. Workers from across jobs and locations shared stories of how they’ve had to dip into savings or go unpaid when they quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure.
Sara Buchanan, a RN Perham Health Clinic Sanford and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, shared what this has meant to nurses and healthcare workers:
“I’ve since found out that means these times away from work don’t qualify to be covered, and this time away isn't a benefit time, it’s my time. Losing this much income for my family is just emotionally, mentally, physically, AND financially exhausting. And this is on top of being at the bedside during COVID.”
Bill Arimborgo, union president of Local 1802-A for Mora School District 332, talked about what this has meant for school workers:
“When you get sick or need to quarantine and there’s no paid COVID-19 leave you don’t have any good choices. You can use your personal leave, but when that runs out, you lose pay or you keep working and put the people around you at risk. When educators are required to quarantine it was not because of anything they did wrong. I know for a fact that our people were doing the right things – social distancing, wearing a mask, always washing their hands. But it’s a pandemic and they were exposed anyway, either at work or in the community.”
Norma Medina, a janitor who has cleaned Ameriprise offices in downtown Minneapolis for 10 years, shared how hard it has been for essential workers:
“This summer one of my coworkers died of COVID and this fall 2 people from my building went to the emergency room and had to be intubated due to COVID. Almost half of the people I work with have had to quarantine. I myself caught COVID in July, and thank God my case was not that difficult. But I had to avoid my children and my husband during this very difficult and isolating 2 weeks. During my quarantine, the family had to pull together what little they were earning to pay for rent and food. The company did not pay me a penny for the 10 days that I am missing. Essential workers need the quarantine to be paid for by the government and the companies. This is the only way to improve public health.”
Essential workers have been pushing for emergency paid leave since the pandemic began, and bills have been brought forward in both the House and Senate to make sure workers aren’t punished for doing what is right and quarantining after COVID-19 exposure. Gov. Tim Walz included his own plan for emergency paid leave in his budget proposal. Multiple elected officials joined the press conference Thursday.
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, the lead House author for HF 41, spoke to why he is brining this legislation forward:
“Many of our businesses are weathering this storm because of our brave, dedicated essential workers. In return, we must make sure that we do our best to ensure that our essential workforce is not using their own paid time off, sick time, or going without pay for shifts missed, while they weather the storm alongside us. To emerge stronger, we must take care of one another first.”
Sen. Erin Murphy, the lead author of the Senate bill to pass Emergency COVID-19 Leave (SF331), shared why it is so important this bill get taken up by the Senate:
"We call them heroes because they do the thing we don’t ever imagine doing ourselves; running into danger, often at great risk, with great purpose. Frontline workers kept working, without proper equipment, to give care and keep Minnesota moving. The very least we can do for them is to provide paid emergency leave. If not, using the word hero is an empty gesture and cold comfort for those who work everyday to keep us safe."
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy shared why this bill is a shared priority across the state’s Labor Movement:
“Minnesota’s Labor Movement has made providing emergency paid leave for essential workers one of our top shared legislative priorities because no worker should be punished for doing the right thing.”
Also joining the call was Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who shared the importance of passing legislation to support the workers who have done so much during this pandemic to keep our state running:
“The pandemic has made it harder than ever for workers and families to get ahead. This Legislature can choose to support the struggling Minnesotans who have been hardest hit by the pandemic, or it can prioritize the power and privilege of the few. House Democrats are determined to provide emergency paid leave for the essential workers who are risking the most to keep all of us healthy and safe.”