As we pass the one year anniversary of COVID, states have the opportunity to invest in the workers that have kept our communities safe and fed all year. We have put our lives on the line to put food on the table and make ends meet for our friends and neighbors, as well as our own families. All this, while many others have been able to work from home.
With federal dollars heading to Oregon and Washington as a result of the passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), we can show the respect that front line workers deserve. UFCW Local 555 is part of a broad labor coalition asking the Oregon Legislature to use a significant portion of ARP funds to compensate essential front-line workers $1,000-$2,000 for their service throughout the crisis. A similar effort is being made in Washington State by the UFCW locals there. But some lawmakers simply want to put those dollars into savings — despite federal law requiring them to be used for COVID recovery.
Recognizing the expenses and sacrifices made by these workers by implementing Essential Worker Pay will stimulate the economy, help workers make ends meet, and show respect to the people who have kept our state going throughout the pandemic.
But this effort isn’t a replacement for the hazard pay or additional wages that these employers should be paying their workers anyway. Over the course of the pandemic, many big-box retailers have seen profits jump anywhere between 40-50% while their temporary hazard pay measures hardly moved the dial on wages. Even if the Oregon Legislature does the right thing and enacts an Essential Worker Pay program, we will still need to press employers to appropriately compensate workers moving forward.
By valuing essential workers and putting them first, we put federal money right back into our economy, which supports our ongoing economic recovery. That’s exactly what it was intended to do. Lawmakers have the opportunity to rebuild our economy so that it works for working families — Black, white, and brown — and not just the super-rich and corporations. Let’s start by paying essential workers.