Expendable Heroes?

You can buy this great lawn sign on Etsy, but you might want to get out a black marker and add  “Deserve Hazard Pay” at the bottom. Most essential workers in the U.S. are still in suspense regarding the possibility of  compensation for their forced exposure to Covid-19 infection. The big question is when and if the HEROES act proposed by the House of Representatives will gain traction. According to the Center for American Progress,

“This would include providing all essential workers with $13 per hour of hazard pay on top of regular wages and allocating more than $12 billion in Social Services Block Grants, $850 million of which would fund child and family care for essential workers. The HEROES Act would also mandate the creation of an OSHA temporary exposure control plan to protect workers from coming in contact with the coronavirus.”

By contrast, President Trump and Senate leader Mitch McConnell are focused on whether employers who force people back to work or engage in negligent behavior are protected against lawsuits.

If the HEROES act does ever actually make it through the Senate,  keep your eye on the definition of “essential workers.” The official Department of Homeland Security  specification seems to combine Census-defined industries and occupations;  New York Times reporters Campbell Robertson and Robert Gebeloff), have interpreted the list this way; some researchers have used only industry codes,  and some only occupation codes.  Policy makers sometimes actually need data nerds to come to consensus…

Meanwhile, here are some links to recent press coverage of the economic impact of Covid-19 on care workers. The headlines pretty much cue the stories:

Bryce Covert, “American Never Valued Care Workers. Then a Pandemic Hit,” The Nation, June 15-22, 2020

Molly Kinder, “Essential but Undervalued: Millions of Health Care Workers Aren’t Getting the Pay or Respect they Deserve in the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Brookings Institution Report,  May 28, 2020.

P.E. Moskowitz, “One Hospital System’s Response to Covid-b19? Union-Busting,” The Nation, May 11, 2020

Danielle Paquette, “Some American Nurses are Facing Pay Cuts. But Around the World, Many are Getting Huge Raises,”

Washington Post, May 24, 2020.

Nathan Boucher, “Covid-19 Has Highlighted the Risks Home Health Workers Face–Here’s What Can be Done to Help,” The Hill, June 8, 2020

Shannon Najmabadi, “Health Care Workers on the Front Lines of Coronavirus Don’t Get Expanded Paid Sick Leave Protections.” Texas Tribune, April 6, 2020


Feel free to add more references in the comments section–and note that in the months to come, teachers are likely to come into play in a big way.



  2 comments for “Expendable Heroes?

  1. Martha MacDonald
    June 14, 2020 at 6:25 am

    Nancy, you might take a look at the Canadian response to this. The federal government put in place a plan with the provinces to top up low wage essential workers pay. It was left to each province to decide who qualifies and how much they get. The differences are interesting and cover the range of justifications (risk, undervaluing of care, the nature of the service…). Also differences RE whether PT workers, or self employed caregivers get it, and whether it is paid directly to employees or through employers. Google top up for essential workers.

  2. June 14, 2020 at 6:59 am

    Martha, Great idea! I’m on it. Thanks, Nancy

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