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Bill calls for increased protections for essential workers

By: Abby Isaacs | Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 08, 2020 and last updated 5:15 PM, Dec 08, 2020

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Through this whole pandemic, we’ve counted on our essential workers, and as cases increase, they are looking for support.

“We put our life on the line day in and day out with exposure to this deadly virus,” said Jennifer Chase, a bus operator and board member of WMATA Montgomery division. “We transport the sick, the elderly to doctors appointments.”

It’s been a source of constant anxiety for these essential workers since March, getting exposed to COVID-19 at work.

“We too are hurting, because whatever we take home, we take home to our family,” said Sophia Atu, a registered nurse at Prince George’s Hospital Center.

“We are faced with the shear density in these grocery stores on a daily basis. There’s a lot of people in there,” said Jeffrey Reid, a meat clerk and union shop steward at a Giant Food in Silver Spring.

With rising case numbers, they are joining advocates and legislators to call for more protections.

“If we call these workers essential, we need to treat them as essential,” said Ricarra Jones, political director for United Healthcare Workers East.

Today they held a virtual kick off rally for the Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act, which would provide standards and procedures to protect the safety of Maryland’s essential workers during pandemics.

“We’re asking workers to go out and risk their lives and at a minimum, we just need to make sure we are protecting them and their families and this will not only help our workforce but it’s also going to help us slow the rising number of cases,” said Jones.

Some of the employees acknowledged improvements to PPE supply and deep cleanings, but say more needs to be done. Union representatives said although some essential workers were receiving “hero pay” early in the pandemic, many have stopped receiving such pay , even as cases rise and essential workers spend their pay on COVID-19-related expenses.

“We don’t have hazard pay and we’re getting sick every day,” said Chase.

“We lost our hazard pay earlier this year, but the hazard is still with us. And now it’s even worse than before,” said Reid. “Companies like mine have not suffered during this pandemic, they’ve thrived. We’re risking our lives to make more money than ever for these grocery chains, and they won’t even give us hazard pay. It’s time for legislators to step in and make this right.”

Along with hazard pay, the act calls for safe & hygienic conditions, the right to refuse dangerous work and free testing & reporting of positive results.

“We are here working like this and people are saying, ‘Thank you, thank you for all you are doing,’ but we also need to be cared for like we are caring for the patients,” said Atu.

This bill is sponsored by Senator Malcolm Augustine Chairman Dereck Davis. It will be introduced at the beginning of the legislative session as emergency legislation.

“Throughout the pandemic, our communities and businesses have relied on essential workers to care for and serve us every day,” said Davis. “Now, it’s time that we show essential workers that they can rely on us. If we protect our essential workers, we protect our communities and businesses alike. Given the economic consequences of this pandemic, we have to pass the Maryland Essential Workers Protections Act now.”

“My district has been one of the hardest hit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s in large part because so many of our essential workers live here. Providing essential services should not needlessly put you and your family in danger. We now have the opportunity to put real protections into place, and that’s why we have to pass the Maryland Essential Workers Protections Act,” said Augustine.

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