Over a year into the pandemic, federal law still has not done enough to guarantee workers fair wages, enforceable COVID-19 safety measures, protection against retaliation for speaking up about violations of their rights or the right to paid time off to care for themselves and their family members in times of need. Many states and companies have also left workers—especially frontline and essential workers—vulnerable and lacking these important safeguards.
In recognizing that these protections are essential now and beyond COVID, we released a toolkit with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) offering four model policies that cities and counties can immediately implement to respond to the needs of workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. The toolkit aims to help local governments respond to the pressing needs of workers during the pandemic and beyond, including model policies that would advance emergency premium pay for frontline workers, a permanent right to paid sick days, COVID health and safety protocols, and anti-retaliation protections for workers who call attention to workplace violations of their rights. The paid sick days model legislation is based on A Better Balance’s model bill that we drafted a decade ago, and which dozens of states and local governments have adopted since then.
The lack of federally guaranteed protections for workers during the pandemic is also a racial justice issue; Black, Latino and Indigenous workers, particularly women of color, are overrepresented in low-wage essential frontline jobs and have been disproportionately affected by COVID. In the past year, as many corporations have failed to ensure their workers are safe and supported during this crisis, workers of color have continually organized and spoken out about the detrimental effects of these gaps in the law.
Local governments have a duty to respond to the needs of their most vulnerable communities. In many states, cities and counties have the power to step in and enact policies that will protect workers and the public during the ongoing pandemic and beyond. The four model laws proposed in the toolkit are designed to be adapted to meet the individual needs of localities, a process that A Better Balance and our partners at NELP and EPI are available to help with.
At A Better Balance, we are dedicated to promoting fair and equitable policies for workers, and to helping workers understand their rights in the workplace via our Workplace Rights Hub and our free legal helpline. We will also continue to advocate at every level of government for worker health and safety protections, both in general and specific to COVID.