A man raises his fist in the rain while taking part in a public safety caravan in April to voice concerns about the impact of COVID-19 in state prisons in front of the Department of Corrections headquarters in Wethersfield. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

The labor movement is working nonstop to protect the health and safety of all working people throughout Connecticut, and especially for our state’s essential workers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sal Luciano ctmirror.org

These courageous workers are keeping our state running during this public health emergency, often without adequate personal protective equipment. They are jeopardizing their health, and the health of their loved ones, in the process.

It’s hard to imagine what would happen to our state and our communities without these essential workers. Yet, too little has been done to protect them during this uncertain and precarious time.

With thousands of essential workers already having been exposed and potentially infected with the novel coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont must immediately order a workers’ compensation presumption during the pandemic. This will allow these workers to receive important healthcare and wage benefits through the workers’ compensation system.

By issuing an executive order, Governor Lamont could create a presumption that the worker contracted the illness on the job. This would allow workers’ compensation claims to be processed in a timely manner and prevent these essential employees from having to go through a protracted appeals process while they are sick and struggling to recover.

In addition to providing medical benefits and partial wage replacement, workers’ compensation provides benefits for permanent physical impairments and death benefits should a worker be killed by work-related accidents or illnesses.

Since Gov. Lamont’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order and adherence to social distancing, these essential workers have no other exposure to COVID-19 except on the job.

A workers compensation presumption would help essential workers like Denise Rogers, a shuttle driver with Propark at Yale New Haven Hospital who has contracted the coronavirus. She transports the hospital’s doctors and nurses who are treating patients sick with the coronavirus. And every time they get on her bus, she was potentially exposed to the virus. Since March, she has been in and out of the hospital receiving treatment. And since April, she has been on unpaid leave.

Diane Logan, an outpatient staff nurse at UConn Health, contracted the virus while she was working at the hospital. Nearly one in four of the health care workers in her clinic have tested positive for COVID-19. Yet she was callously denied workers’ compensation benefits.

And Virginia Ligi, a correctional officer at Cheshire Correctional Institution, where she and other correctional officers were only receiving cloth masks made by inmates. In March, before she even received the cloth masks, Virginia tested positive for COVID-19 as have hundreds of other workers and inmates – some of whom have since died. Virginia was confined to her bed for nearly a month with three young children also at home. But again, Virginia and her fellow correctional officers have been denied benefits.

These workers are literally risking their lives for their communities. At a minimum, we should be taking care of them when they get sick because all they did was go to work.

While we are grateful the Governor has negotiated a no-cost life insurance policy for them, we think the state should be providing them benefits while they are sick and still alive – not just when they die.

Governor Lamont says he has a new appreciation for essential workers who are keeping our state running during this dangerous pandemic. But subjecting them to a lengthy appeals process and denial of benefits hardly seems an appropriate way to demonstrate gratitude. With the legislature in recess, only he can change this process.

By issuing an executive order, Gov. Lamont would join several other governors in declaring that essential workers contracted COVID-19 on the job, clearing the way for them to access vital workers’ compensation benefits. It’s the least he can do.

Sal Luciano is the President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which represents over 200,000 workers in the private sector, public sector, and building trades.

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