Massachusetts Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joined a handful of New York City councilmembers during a digital town hall on efforts to pass a Workers Bill of Rights during the novel coronavirus pandemic at the local and national level.
“One of the things that the COVID-19 crisis has shown us is who are the essential workers in our country and guess what it turns out it’s not the investment bankers,” said Warren during the Zoom meeting hosted by Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander. Not only are essential workers doctors and nurses, Warren said, but they are also janitors keeping hospitals clean, delivery workers, grocery store workers and home health aides.
“If these essential workers are willing to get out there and put their own health at risk and sometimes putting their family’s health at risk then the very least the rest of us can do is make sure that have some genuine protection,” Warren added.
In mid-April, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna from California unveiled a Worker’s Bill of Rights to protect frontline workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic at a federal level. The bill of rights which called for provided all essential workers with adequate personal protective equipment at no cost to the employee, a premium wage for workers which could boost pay for lowest-paid work without counting towards eligibility for means-tested programs, protections for collective bargaining agreements, universal paid sick leave and family medical leave, whistleblower protections, protections against worker misclassification, health care regardless of immigration status, support for childcare and calling on Congress to allow workers to put on boards of directors for corporations and to not require companies to use the funding for payroll retention and to require CEOs to personally certify they are compliant with worker protections or face civil or criminal charges.
Two weeks ago, the New York City Council introduced a Virus Relief Plan which included a bundle of bills collectively known as the Essential Workers Bill of Rights. The ‘bill of rights’ included legislation providing essential worker whistleblower protections, paid sick leave for gig workers, extra pay for non-salaried essential workers at large companies, a ban on firing essential workers without just cause, and allowing essential workers impacted financially by the pandemic more time to pay rent. Councilmember Brad Lander, Ben Kallos, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Speaker Corey Johnson who all sponsored bills within the “bill of rights” joined in on the Zoom conference call with Warren and about a dozen nurses, grocery store workers and food delivery workers.
After hearing a few personal accounts from frontline workers, Warren posed a question for logging off to take part in a congressional vote. What’s the thing that would make you feel most valued and protected in your workplace?
“Kindness,” said Christine Merola, a cashier at a Stop & Shop. ” We are all in it together, it’s tough as an employee and it’s tough as a customer but we need to come together. If I could see more of that would be great.