During the pandemic, our state’s public health and public safety have depended heavily on frontline essential workers. They have cared for patients, stocked grocery store shelves, staffed prisons, operated public transit systems, maintained construction sites, cared for children, and ensured residents had access to other important services.

Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Despite the risks, essential workers showed up and did their jobs while many of us worked comfortably from home.

Now, it’s time to make sure that we look after them. Two bills before the legislature, which we refer to as the Essential Worker Rescue Plan, will do exactly that.

These bills, House Bill 6595 and Senate Bill 1002, are critical for all working people in our state, but especially for our frontline workers.

Most importantly, the Essential Worker Rescue Plan will:

  • establish a COVID-19 workers’ compensation presumption so essential workers infected on the job can access earned healthcare and wage replacement benefits;
  • allow healthcare and other essential workers to receive workers’ compensation benefits to treat pandemic-induced post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI);
  • provide hazard pay to essential workers for their service during the pandemic; and,
  • require the state to prepare for a future emergency by creating a personal protective equipment stockpile.

This it the very least we should be doing for our essential workers. We have long hailed them as heroes. It’s up to us to treat them that way too.

Additionally, these bills will further help working people by enhancing reporting and transparency around healthcare staffing, creating recall rights for laid off workers, expanding the earned sick days law, and creating good-paying construction jobs by requiring project labor agreements on certain public projects.

The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Joe Biden, provided our state with over $6 billion and an unprecedented opportunity to invest in our communities and the workers who saw us through the worst of the pandemic. With limited exceptions, $2.6 billion of the ARP dollars for Connecticut are unrestricted.

Using just a portion of the unrestricted funds, the Essential Worker Rescue Plan can be fully funded by ARP dollars – meaning the entire package would come at no cost to Connecticut taxpayers.

It’s past time we honor the sacrifices of essential workers. Our state was hit harder than most as COVID-19 spread across New England before it reached many other parts of the country. The state legislature simply cannot adjourn the legislative session without providing this badly needed assistance for essential workers.

Over 8,000 Connecticut residents have died during this pandemic. Nearly 350,000 have been infected. Many of them have been frontline workers.

I remember meeting Scott Mesloh, a registered nurse at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield who was treating COVID patients and contracted it himself in March of last year. He is a long hauler who still needs oxygen every day just to survive.

There’s Sean Howard, a correctional officer at Cheshire Correctional Institution, who contracted the virus at work and now has a permanent heart condition as a result. He still struggles with fatigue and shortness of breath.

And I can never forget Denise Rogers, a shuttle driver who transported doctors, nurses and other medical staff to and from Yale New Haven Hospital. She contracted the virus early in the pandemic when PPE was not as readily available. Denise spent weeks in the hospital before recovering, but still suffers from brain fog, severe headaches, fatigue, and has been unable to work. Her husband, Howard, was not so fortunate. After 48 days in the hospital, he tragically passed away from the novel coronavirus.

The Essential Worker Rescue Plan recognizes the tremendous toll the pandemic has taken on our frontline workers. It provides basic but critical protections to address the physical, emotional and financial challenges they have been forced to endure.

The governor and the legislature should not squander this moment. Essential workers protected us when we needed them most. Now it’s time we stand up for them.

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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