DFL lawmakers, unions push for end to pay stalemate

Ryan Winkler
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, holds a news conference with front-line pandemic workers Wednesday at the Minnesota Capitol to call on Republicans to reach an agreement on bonus pay.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

A group of DFL legislators and union members called Wednesday for an end to the impasse over pandemic front-line worker bonuses.

They want checks sent out soon to as many recipients as possible.

A plan was supposed to be in place a month ago, but House Democrats and Senate Republicans remain divided over how many workers should share in the available $250 million.

Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said her members were able to do their jobs during the pandemic because of the efforts of food service employees, janitors, childcare workers and others.

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“We are all essential workers,” Turner said.

The DFL proposal would provide a minimum of $375 per employee, with as many as 600,000 applications expected.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said they are also looking at ways to spend more.

“We will have billions of dollars for a supplemental budget in the next legislative session,” Winkler said. “To say that we should start excluding workers from essential worker pay because we can’t afford to go above $250 million to recognize those people is ridiculous. We have the money. What we lack is the will to do it.”

Senate Republicans outlined a plan last week to provide bonuses of $1,200 to the workers they say took the most risk during the pandemic. They’re putting a priority on health care workers, nursing home employees, first responders, and corrections officers. A smaller pool would mean a bigger check.

Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the Republican proposal excludes too many workers, such as grocery store employees and meatpackers.

“From my perspective, it’s ludicrous to segment front-line workers and say some are worthy and some are not.” Murphy said.