This move isn’t terribly surprising. As Daily Kos previously covered, Warren has already urged the CEOs of major food delivery apps—including DoorDash, InstaCart, and UberEats—to reclassify workers amid the pandemic. Why? Right now, many of these people are essentially gig workers; they’re contractors, not full employees, so they’re not able to access a number of important benefits ranging from the ability to unionize to health insurance coverage and paid sick leave. The gig economy is a wreck for the labor rights movement in general, but in the face of a public health crisis when these low-wage workers are on the front lines, the need for worker reform is even more glaring. In this “Essential Workers Bill of Rights,” they hammer down on the ongoing issue of worker misclassification again.
Rep. Khanna is a longtime advocate for workers: He has fought to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, plus adjustments for inflation. He also wants to see paid sick leave required for all workers, a universal “bill of rights” for domestic workers, and retirement made more accessible. In a press release, Khanna stressed that the ongoing pandemic “needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.”
Like Khanna, even before the pandemic, Warren was a loyal advocate for labor rights. For example, during her presidential campaign she released several proposals centering on workers, as well as joining picket lines for both teachers and grocery store employees. But the content in the release from herself and Khanna is especially relevant right now.
Two major points in the proposal released on Monday, April 13 call for free health care for all essential workers, as well as putting the burden on the companies to provide all workers with personal protective equipment. More money for child care centers is also included in the proposal.
Notably, the proposal requests that workers get “robust premium pay” for work they’ve already completed during the crisis. They note that this pay increase must “not [be] used to lower the regular rate of pay for any employee” and should “not count towards workers’ eligibility for any means-tested programs.” The guidelines suggest whistleblower protections for people who bring unsafe conditions to light. It also specifies that workers who have been exposed to infected coworkers must be notified. This point is particularly important as grocery store employees say they’re going into work without officially knowing who among them had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Other important highlights include two weeks of paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave without the “unnecessary” paperwork. The press releases stresses: “We must ensure that President Trump is not allowed to arbitrarily exclude workers to roll back these protections.”
Unsurprisingly, this proposal doesn’t let corporations off the hook when it comes to handouts, either. The pair calls for taxpayer dollars to go directly to workers, not CEOs or shareholders. Or, as they put it: “the President’s cronies.” The proposal advocates for “taxpayers and workers [having] a stake in how funds are used and companies should be required to use funding for payroll retention, put workers on boards of directors, and remain neutral in union organizing drives.” And if they don’t comply? Civil and criminal penalties if they personally certify this all works for them, and then are found not to be compliant with worker protections.
“We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve,” Warren said in a press release. “The next relief package must put all workers front and center—but it must also specifically include the policies in our Essential Workers Bill of Rights.”