As we work to turn the corner from COVID-19 and build Minnesota's recovery, it is critical that we remember the essential workers who kept our state running during this pandemic. Our appreciation for their sacrifice must be more than a few kind words of appreciation or a banner outside of a big box store.
Thousands of essential workers on the front line missed work because of COVID-19 exposure and were not paid for their time off. It is hard to believe that the people who kept Minnesota running during the pandemic — the nurses, janitors, warehouse employees, cashiers, education support professionals, meat packing plant workers and more — would be punished financially for quarantining to keep themselves and our communities safe. But that is exactly what is happening to too many of the Minnesotans who worked on the front lines and lost pay and earned time off in order to keep people alive and safe.
Workers missed days, weeks and sometimes even months of time on the job. Those who were lucky drained their paid sick or leave time, but for many others it meant managing a virus that was killing their co-workers, family and neighbors while also worrying about paying their rent or mortgage. It meant dipping into savings, if they existed, and going into debt if they didn't.
Is this how we want to treat the people we so recently called "heroes" for their sacrifices?
Minnesotans who bravely stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic deserve better, which is why we are the lead authors of the Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act. This bill ensures that if essential workers missed work because they were in a COVID-related quarantine, they will get paid for the time they missed.
Yet, as we enter the final negotiations of the legislative session, our bill hasn't passed. It never even received a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate. It is one of the many policies being considered as legislators and the governor work to reach a state budget agreement.
Billions of dollars are coming to Minnesota thanks to the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan. These federal funds are being sent with the express purpose of helping those still struggling in the wake of the pandemic. And yet, against all logic, there is a chance our state could still do nothing to support our essential workers and make this right.
These jobs couldn't be done from home, so front-line workers went in every day knowing the great risk to their health. Many of these jobs have been historically underpaid and done by women and people of color. In a state with terrible disparities, refusing to support these workers will knowingly reinforce the inequities that exist, making them worse.
COVID-19 impacted all our lives, no matter our political party, race, ZIP code or religion. The workers who stepped up during this pandemic didn't ask who you voted for before doing the jobs that allowed our state to stay up and running. It shouldn't even be a question that we as a state would do what's necessary to make sure these workers aren't penalized for being exposed to COVID-19.
As we invest in our recovery from a virus that killed thousands of Minnesotans, we can't turn our back on those who got sick but survived and are facing financial hardships by no fault of their own. We need the governor and the Legislature to do right by essential workers and make sure the Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act is part of the final deal.
Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, is a member of the Minnesota House.