Labor groups press for front-line worker pay

Two nurses talk in a hospital hallway.
Nurses Jem Ennen, left, and Lauren Smith talk in the hallway of a Medical ICU at St. Mary's Hospital at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 31, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Organized labor leaders are pressing Minnesota lawmakers to resolve their differences on a $250 million plan to assist pandemic front-line workers.

They want all essential workers to be eligible for the money, not just some.

Union workers shared their frustration during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.   

Paul Swanson, an employee of a grocery store in Wayzata, said he’s been on the job throughout the pandemic.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

“Every essential worker, no matter the job, no matter the zip code, deserves to be respected, protected and paid for the important work we do,” Swanson said.

Laura Heezen, a behavior analyst with the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said the promised assistance is taking too long.

“We on the front-line are the ones dealing with the threat of this virus day in and day out,” Heezen said.

A panel charged with coming up with a plan to distribute the money failed to meet its deadline last week. Democrats and Republicans disagree on how many workers should be included.

Rena Wong of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 wants lawmakers to just find more money.

“Lawmakers have the ability to expand beyond the $250 million, and we absolutely encourage them to do so,” Wong said.

The unions blame Republicans for trying to exclude many essential workers from the benefit. But Republicans say the money only goes so far, and they want those who were most at risk, including health care workers and law enforcement, to be first in line for the benefit.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, a member of the working group, said discussions on eligibility continue.

“We are tasked with those who had an increased risk of COVID by going to work every day,” Housley said.

Correction (Sept. 17, 2021): This story has been updated with the union affiliation of Rena Wong.