As Congress begins crafting its fourth coronavirus stimulus package, Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have proposed an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to help protect laborers on the frontlines of the crisis.
The pair of progressive Democratic lawmakers have called on their colleagues to wrap some of the policies from their proposal into the upcoming relief package.
“Essential workers are the backbone of our nation’s response to coronavirus,” Warren said in a press release. “We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve. The next relief package must put all workers front and center—but it must also specifically include the policies in our Essential Workers Bill of Rights.”
Warren and Khanna’s initiative has 10 core concepts. Namely, to:
- Ensure that employers create a safe work environment and require them to provide necessary personal protective equipment to their employees at no cost.
- Pay workers a livable wage—especially the lowest-wage essential workers.
- Protect collective bargaining agreements from being changed or dissolved by employers during the pandemic.
- Enact Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Washington) PAID Leave Act, which provides workers with 14 days of paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
- Protect whistleblowers who report unsafe working conditions due to the coronavirus.
- End worker misclassification to ensure misclassified independent contractors receive benefits and protections typically only available to employees.
- Ensure all essential workers—regardless of insurance or immigration status—have access to health care through public programs that provide no-cost health care coverage for all.
- Commit funding for child care for essential workers.
- Work with employers, workers and their unions and organizations in crafting “safety and compensation standards.”
- Hold corporations accountable by ensuring federal funding goes to workers and not executives.
Khanna told San Jose Inside that he sees two different United States amid the coronavirus outbreak: one in which people get to work remotely and the other in which employees have to face the pandemic on the front lines.
“Those workers need to be paid,” he said of the latter. “They need to be safe, they need to have child care and healthcare, so this is long overdue. These workers are often invisible, but finally we’re see in their worth. … It’s time that we pay them like they deserve.”
Khanna said the Essential Workers Bill of Rights is especially important for Silicon Valley, where many employees have been forgotten amid the “age of automation.”
“It’s important that we take time to reflect on those workers that don’t always get the credit and aren’t always seen in Silicon Valley,” he said in an interview. “They need to have equity in the tech economy. They need to have the sense that they can afford to live her or afford a middle-class life.”