A coalition (Minnesota AFL-CIO; SEIU Local 26; SEIU Local 284; ISAIAH / Faith in Minnesota; UFCW Local 1189; Minnesota Nurses Association; CTUL; Unidos MN; Committee to Protect Health Care; Education Minnesota) representing labor, faith, and community organizations released the following statement regarding the Frontline Worker Pay and Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund deal reached between the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Walz:
Frontline worker bonus checks are an overdue recognition to the Minnesotans who continue to keep our state safe, healthy, fed, and housed during the pandemic. Essential workers, who are mostly women and people of color, were underpaid and overlooked long before the pandemic. We appreciate this bonus, but we know that much more has to be done to ensure every worker is respected, protected and paid for what we are worth.
Over the last two legislative sessions, those working on the frontline and directly impacted by the lack of support, protection, and wages have fought in legislative meetings, workgroups, at the Capitol and marched in the streets for this recognition. It is a shame that we had to fight so hard — especially against attempts by legislative Republicans to exclude certain workers.
It’s also shameful that the deal disproportionately favors big corporations and leaves out an expansion of Unemployment Insurance to hourly school workers. The state of Minnesota is handing businesses five times as much money as frontline workers in the form of $2.7 billion for their Unemployment Insurance fund, which is exactly what was requested by the business community. Meanwhile, only a fraction of the funds requested by essential workers were honored.
The deal gives $750 checks to over 600,000 frontline workers, which is an improvement over the deal struck in 2021, but it falls short of the proposals by the DFL to deliver $1,500 bonus checks and invest $160 million to ensure the hourly staff who make our schools work have the social safety net of Unemployment Insurance like all other seasonal workers.
Frontline worker bonus checks, while ultimately incomparable to our sacrifices, represent a positive step toward the state that we deserve. Every Minnesotan deserves pay, benefits, and support that allow our families to have what we need to thrive and care for our families, including: Earned Sick and Safe Leave and Paid Family and Medical Leave, Unemployment Insurance access, safety on the job, and fully funded public education from pre-k through college. We can’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic. We must create a better future for workers and all Minnesotans.
Minnesotans who have worked on the frontlines and directly impacted by this policy share their reactions
Ignacia Ambriz, a grocery store worker and member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) testified at a Frontline Worker Pay hearing in March: "I work in a large grocery store. During the pandemic I've had to regularly work 9-10 hours days and then return home to support my grandchildren through remote education. These bonus checks are not much, however the cost of living has increased greatly and it would help us pay our bills. Essential workers have been here keeping the economy running."
Tracy Roscoe, a member of Kids Count On Us, initiative of ISAIAH, and teacher at Sandcastle Child Care Center in Saint Paul, celebrates the impact Frontline Worker Bonus Pay will have for her and other essential workers across Minnesota and the opportunity this creates for state legislators to focus on deeper needs essential workers face on a daily basis: “These bonus pay checks are so important to the hundreds of thousands of people, like myself, who have been working on the frontlines since this pandemic started. As childcare providers, we care for and educate our communities' youngest Minnesotans. We allow parents to go to their jobs to provide for their families. We have put our health and the health of our families on the line for our state. Yet we have been chronically underpaid for our work for decades. These checks are a big step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing lawmakers take on long-term, systemic solutions to address our state's growing childcare crisis.”
Eva Lopez, Janitor and Vice President of SEIU Local 26: “Essential workers sacrificed a lot in the last two years, and I’m glad we will finally get some recognition for what we did to keep Minnesota running while many people stayed home. These checks will not bring back my fellow union members and all of our friends and family who died from COVID, but they are a sign of respect for the work we do to care for Minnesotans and keep us safe. Essential workers, mostly women and people of color, were underpaid and overlooked long before the pandemic, and while we appreciate the check, we know that much more has to be done to ensure every worker is respected, protected and paid what for what they are worth."
Peter Altonen, UFCW 1189 member and employee at Mount Royal Fine Foods in Duluth: "This bonus pay money is a validation of our commitment through the pandemic offering food to our communities and to help offset our costs that we endured to help keep us safe while we served our community. It was hard, especially in the beginning of the pandemic when we really didn't understand how the virus was transmitted or how long it could live on surfaces. We were often the only places some people could go, so we saw an increase in customers and amount of product to stock."
Mary C. Turner, RN, President of the Minnesota Nurses Association: “For two years, frontline workers have shown up, even when we didn’t have adequate PPE, hazard pay, retention bonuses, or paid COVID leave. I am thankful the Minnesota Legislature has finally shown up for nurses and other frontline workers. These payments won’t solve the problems in our workplaces. They won’t solve the understaffing or the unsafe and unsupportive working conditions our executives have created. But they will help nurses and other essential workers cover the costs of living on the frontline of the pandemic, and they will provide a measure of recognition for the sacrifices all essential workers continue to make.”
Maria C, Worthington MN hospitality worker leader and Emilio González food production worker leader, Richfield MN. Unidos MN. “We are grateful for everyone that showed up and publicly demanded dignified treatment of all essential workers. The payments for workers like me are a good next step, we are beyond grateful and acknowledge the work it took from everyone. But it doesn’t measure the sacrifice that workers endured across Minnesota. Knowing that we got a 750 payment while the wealthy few continue to benefit the most of our much needed rescue resources leaves us with mixed emotions. We are thankful to legislators and elected officials that sided with us all along. This step forward is indeed positive, and still there is a lot of work to do on behalf of essential workers across Minnesota. We will continue to organize on much needed worker centered solutions that can bring a fair share of the wealth that the work of our bodies produce.”