Brown wants ‘essential workers’ to get up to $25K in hazard pay

By Sabrina Eaton - Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown on Wednesday unveiled details of a plan that would give “essential workers” such as doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, building cleaners, letter carriers, and transit workers a government funded pay bump of up to $25,000 during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re the ones who keep our society together during this pandemic allowing others to stay home,” said Brown. “They’re the ones that people don’t notice until they’re not doing their work. If we’re going to tell these workers who are essential to our country you have to go to work during a public health emergency, then their paycheck should reflect that.”

Brown broached the idea last week in a letter to President Donald Trump, that sought the extra compensation for workers, as well as additional precautions to protect them from workplace exposure to the COVID-19 virus. On Wednesday, he released details of the ‘Heroes Fund” proposal he worked out with a group of Democratic colleagues including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

It would give each essential frontline worker $13/hour premium pay on top of regular wages for all hours worked in essential industries through the end of 2020, capping the total maximum premium pay at $25,000 for each essential frontline worker earning less than $200,000 per year and $5,000 for each essential worker earning $200,000 or more per year.

It would also provide a one-time $15,000 premium for signing on to do essential work, limiting eligibility to essential health and home care workers and first responders who are experiencing severe staffing shortages impeding the ability to provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of these workers have kids whose schools are closed,” said Brown. “Many daycares are closed, bus and train schedules have been reduced, going to work at all is harder than ever for a lot of essential workers. Premium pay recognizes that will make a big difference for the workers and their families. It will help us keep critical workers in the job.”

Brown’s plan was endorsed by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) President Marc Perrone, whose union represents approximately 900,000 grocery workers, and 250,000 meat packing and food processing workers across the United States. Perrone said his union represents Ohio workers at facilities including Kroger grocery stores, the Campbell Soup Company, and Cargill.

“It is essential that we keep these workers safe and protect them and make sure that we can keep the food supply open,” said Perrone, adding that some employers such as Kroger have “anted up” with extra pay.

Brown envisions the proposal would be part of a new coronavirus recovery package that Congress is expected to consider when it comes back into session after the pandemic abates. He says it will be paid for the “same way as the rest of the recovery act.”

“If we can bail out the airlines, if we can help businesses, as we should, we should be helping workers, number one, stay safe and number two, be rewarded when they make these sacrifices and put themselves and their families at risk,” said Brown.

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman said he was not familiar enough with details of Brown’s proposal to comment on it, but agreed that workers who keep society going during pandemics are “heroes.” He said they deserve to have personal protective gear, and said that companies like Kroger that are hiring more workers to assist during the pandemic are “probably having to pay a little bit more, and that’s appropriate.”

By Sabrina Eaton

Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)

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