Essential workers: the ones who provide health care and check out customers in grocery stores. The ones who serve as janitors, firefighters, and postal workers. The ones who, of recently, have been quarreled with, shot, and killed for urging civilians to follow safety regulations. In the US, the danger essential workers face from Covid-19 has only risen, but paradoxically, hazard pay has been withdrawn from many. Hazard pay, a small hourly or one-time bonus, provides incentives for essential workers and support in the case of the emergency. Many businesses provided these bonuses early on in the pandemic, but now Amazon, Kroger, and Rite Aid, among other companies, are dissolving hazard pay for their employees. Other employers never offered it. As of now, Congress has passed three phases of stimulus packages included in the CARES Act, which was passed in March 2020. On May 15th, the House passed another, more substantial, stimulus package called the Heroes Act that has yet to be passed by the Senate. Ultimately, this new stimulus package offers a more secure alternative to business-supplied hazard pay. Instead of providing only certain essential workers with hazard pay, the Heroes Act needs to be passed so as to protect every essential worker and remove the uncertainty around giving businesses the decision to supply hazard pay or not.

Essential Workers Are Still in Danger

The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic in March 2020. Many essential workers carried on through it all, but most are not paid nearly enough for the dangers they face. Statistically, essential workers hold some of America’s lowest-paid jobs, and the pandemic only provided many with a nominal and temporary, $2/hour raise. Provided that workers are given a substantial bonus, hazard pay produces a financial safety net for essential workers in the case of sickness, giving them the funds needed for health insurance. Allowing businesses to make the individual decisions of providing hazard pay cannot work because not all businesses can afford, or desire, to give hazard pay. Although the CARES Act supplied this critical financial help to essential workers, as well as to those who are unemployed, the stimulus package was again, only temporary. Given that only 29% of essential workers receive hazard pay from employers, and that many worry they will get sick on the job, providing these workers with health care support is essential. The Heroes Act includes $200 billion in hazard pay, $1200 stimulus checks, and housing and hunger support, among other things. It also preserves health coverage, an important protection right now. Revoking hazard pay is illogical during a time when so many face exposure to coronavirus on a daily basis. The Heroes Act isn’t just helpful, as it also has the potential to save livelihoods and offer vital funds.

Providing Financial Protection 

In Los Angeles, a Food 4 Less employee named Susan Hernandez voices the struggles of essential workers by explaining: “We’re out there every day, dealing with customers not complying with safety measures, like wearing masks.” It seems like, to Hernandez and other essential workers, “hazard pay is a small price to pay for what [they’re] dealing with every day,” including risking their lives. Other employees, those of big corporations, have staged walkouts in an effort to receive the pay they deserve. Unfortunately, the current demand for jobs means that businesses don’t have to give in to employees’ demands. The government, on the other hand, has both the ability and resources to offer essential workers hazard pay. Apart from thanking them for their work, hazard pay helps relieve essential workers of financial burdens. It’s critical that this bill is passed as soon as possible because it may take some time for the money to actually end up in the hands of workers. And besides that, passing this act is critical simply because the lives of essential workers are in critical danger each day.

Why The Heroes Act? 

Although some businesses have chosen to withdraw or withhold hazard pay, others can’t afford it. The costs of running a business combined with the following of safety regulations and paying employees extra can add up quickly. Of course, having the government take over hazard pay in the long term will eliminate this issue. Some argue that hazard pay should focus more on health care workers, saying that they face a greater risk. While there is no question that healthcare workers are indeed in danger of getting sick, so are the other essential workers. For example, 41 transit workers in New York City died after getting COVID, and many more have gotten sick or died all over the country. Hazard pay needs to be given to all essential workers who are working in public; they are all in hazardous environments. So why is the Heroes Act the best option? If passed by the Senate, it will take the pressure off of businesses and provide for all the essential workers. Right now, it’s the quickest and most reliable course of action.

What’s Next?

The Heroes Act can make a difference in so many lives if passed, and not just those of essential workers. It will help support unemployed Americans and protect both worker safety and payrolls. Americans must acknowledge the dangers essential workers face each day, and ultimately it is the responsibility of the government to provide hazard pay. Businesses cannot be counted on to give workers long-term or substantial amounts of hazard pay. Right now, this act rests in the hands of the Senate, but Americans can help get these funds out as well. Signing a petition will urge senators to see how popular passing the Heroes Act is. Or even better, reaching out to one’s state senator so they can hear the voices of whom they serve. Apart from taking action to pass the Heroes Act, everyone can go a long way by simply following Covid-19 regulations. Wearing masks in public, social distancing, and respecting employees will help make the lives of essential workers much easier. More than customers’ help, though, essential workers need financial security. They need the Heroes Act.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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