City Council Advocates for Hazard Pay for Essential Frontline Workers During COVID-19

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Today (Thursday, May 21), the City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the provision of hazard pay for frontline workers in the next federal coronavirus stimulus package.

Council leaders say New Orleans relies heavily on essential workers, such as first responders, health care professionals, transit operators, grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, childcare providers, and more, to keep the city functioning.

“Everyone is singing the praises of our frontline and thanking them for their sacrifice,” said City Council President Jason Williams. “Sanitation workers and other essential workers have risked infection and bringing that infection back home to their families every day since this crisis began. They deserve more than just a pat on the back.”

Whether workers in New Orleans or anywhere in the nation will see hazard pay sooner, rather than later mostly depends on what the U.S. Senate will do in early June.

A provision that would provide additional pay for many of the workers defined as “essential” is included in the HEROES Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, May 15. The bill actually provides for $200 billion in “pandemic premium pay”.

The HEROES Act is now stalled, with leaders in the U.S. Senate calling the bill dead on arrival and having no plans to even begin discussing it or any other relief package until early June after the Memorial Day recess.

If the bill were to pass the Senate in its current form, essential workers would receive either $10,000 or $5,000 in hazard pay if the provision passes as it currently stands in The Heroes Act. This money would be paid retroactively back to Jan. 27, 2020, with essential workers receiving a lump-sum payment at the start of the program for all hours worked back to January. After this, hazard pay would be included with regular paychecks and would be distributed as a $13 an hour pay raise or bonus that essential workers would continue to receive in their checks until they reach their $10,000 or $5,000 limit or until 60 days after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, whichever comes first.

“We, as Americans, must take meaningful steps to protect those people and industries that have endured the highest physical risk of exposure to this virus,” Williams said. “The federal government should institute a hazard pay protocol that funds these employers so they can properly pay out hazard pay to those residents taking the most risks to get us through this. If the federal government can fund forgivable loans to huge publicly held corporations, they certainly can fund hazard pay for first responders, RTA drivers, sanitation workers, and the like.”

Council President Williams has been able to coordinate a meeting between striking sanitation workers and Metro Disposal to discuss hazard pay and other concerns brought up amid the coronavirus pandemic this Friday.  

He continued, “I hope we can have a thoughtful, productive discussion of the issues and hopefully identify a workable path forward.”