Who is the hero? Some countries and cities are still debating the risk allowance

Who is the hero?  Some countries and cities are still debating the risk allowance

Hartford, Connecticut. When the US government allowed so-called hero wages to front-line workers as a potential use of pandemic relief money, it suggested potentially eligible occupations from farm workers and child care workers to cleaners and truck drivers.

State and local governments have struggled to determine which of the many workers who braved the raging coronavirus pandemic before vaccines became available should be eligible: government employees only, or private sector employees too? Should it go to a small group of essential workers like nurses or spread around others, including grocery store workers?

“It’s a bad situation for us because you have your local government trying to pick winners and losers, if you like, or recipients and non-recipients,” said Jason Levesque, the Republican mayor of Auburn, Maine, where officials have not yet decided who will receive the hazard pay out of the money. America’s bailout in the city, “by default, you say important versus unimportant.”

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A year and a half into the pandemic, such decisions have had political repercussions for some leaders as unions push for expanded eligibility, with workers who ended up leaving embittered.

“It sounds like it’s about the money, but it’s a token of appreciation,” said Jenny Leggy, a corrections officer who contracted COVID-19 last year in Connecticut, where bonus checks have not yet been cut amid negotiations with unions. “It’s very hard to describe in words the actual feeling of what it was like to walk into this place every day, day after day, day after day. We were scarred. I really did.”

Temporary federal rules posted six months ago allow state and local COVID-19 recovery funds to be spent on premium workers up to $13 an hour, on top of their regular wages. The amount cannot exceed $25,000 per employee.

The rules also allow grants to be made to outside employers with eligible workers, who are defined as someone who has “regular personal interaction or physical handling of items that have also been handled by others” or an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

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The rules encourage state and local governments to “prioritize retroactive premium pay where possible, recognizing that many essential workers have not yet received additional compensation for work performed over a period of several months,” while also prioritizing eligible low-income workers. .

As of July, about a third of US states have used federal COVID-19 relief aid to reward workers deemed essential through bonuses, although qualifications and the amount they receive vary widely, according to an Associated Press review.

The list of state hazard and premium wages benefits as of November 18, provided by the national convention of state legislatures, shows that the funds were typically earmarked for government workers, such as state soldiers and corrections officers.

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In Minnesota, lawmakers still have $250 million in aid earmarked for champion pay, but they have been struggling with how to distribute it. A special commission was unable to come up with a compromise plan, and instead sent two competing recommendations to the full legislature for consideration.

“I think every time we take another week, we delay the whole process and I think the quickest way is to take them to the legislature,” Republican state Senator Marie Kiefmayer, a member of the committee, said during last month’s meeting.

Minnesota Senate Republicans want to offer a tax-free bonus of $1,200 to nearly 200,000 workers they say have been exposed to the greatest risks, such as nurses, long-term care workers, prison staff and first responders.

But House Democrats want the money distributed more broadly, providing roughly $375 to some 670,000 essential workers, including low-wage food service workers, grocers, security guards, guards and more.

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Earlier this week, after the political deadlock appeared to be easing on another issue, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman told Minnesota Public Radio that she believed a deal could be reached on frontline pay, noting that there was a “natural middle ground.” very” between duel proposals.

Connecticut has yet to pay any of the $20 million in federal pandemic money that state lawmakers allocated in June to essential state employees and members of the Connecticut National Guard.

As negotiations with union leaders continue, the Connecticut Labor Organization AFL-CIO has stepped up pressure on Democratic Governor Ned Lamont, who will be re-elected in 2022, to offer $1 an hour in hazard pay to all essential public and private sector workers who worked during the pandemic before it became Vaccinations are available.

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“The governor needs to reassess his priorities and show that these workers who put themselves and their lives at risk are a top priority. I think it really is the least he can do for these workers,” said Ed Hawthorne, Connecticut president of the AFL-CIO. It’s time for the governor to show them.”

Max Rees, a spokesman for Lamont, said the numbers cited by organized workers were “not meaningful”.

In the meantime, he said, the administration is conducting negotiations with unions of state employees, categorizing the work that state employees have done during the pandemic and determining whether they have shifted to other responsibilities that were more or less serious, which could also affect whether they receive more or more. Less money.

We want to get to know the workers who kept going to work every day because they had to and there was no choice. These range from people who work in state-run health care facilities to people who need to plow our roads during inclement weather and work personal jobs. Who are all these people? There is a process to check it out. “

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In some states such as California, cities are working to determine how to fairly distribute some of their federal funds to help essential private sector workers who may not have received additional salaries from their employers.

Rachel Torres, deputy political and civil rights division for United Food and Trade Workers Union, local 770, said her union is urging cities to follow the approach of Oxnard and Calabasas, which voted this year to provide payments to grocery and drug workers. As much as 1000 dollars.

“It shouldn’t be competition between the core workforce. There should be money available for a lot of workers,” Torres said.

David Dobbs and his fellow firefighters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, are alarmed that their city has yet to provide them with a share of the $110 million it received in federal epidemic-fighting funds. Mayor Joe Jamin, a Democrat, said in a statement he supports the concept of premium pay but the matter is still under review to ensure any payments comply with federal rules.

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“We have shown a commitment to this partnership. Imagine lending your friends the right amount of money and then hitting the Powerball and not getting things right,” said Dobbs, president of the Bridgeport Firefighters Association, which has given up on salary increases in the past when the city budget was tight.

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Associated Press writer Steve Karnofsky in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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