Essential workers call bonus pay holdup ‘a slap in the face’

At a rally in downtown Minneapolis, advocates call on legislators to stop playing politics with a fund created to compensate essential workers.

What do nurses, janitors, educators and other essential workers want from state lawmakers this holiday season? They spelled it out last week during a rally and march through downtown Minneapolis.

“Quit playing politics and get the job done,” Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner said, standing alongside a chain of essential workers holding large, block letters spelling out “ESSENTIAL PAY.”

In July, Minnesota lawmakers set aside $250 million in state funds to compensate essential workers for keeping the state running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But workers have yet to receive a penny from that fund, and it appears unlikely they will before the 2022 legislative session convenes Jan. 31.

That’s because legislators on a bipartisan working group failed to reach agreement on who should be eligible for payments.

Republicans refused to budge from their position that a smaller pool of workers – including health care workers, long-term-care staff and first responders – should be compensated, while DFLers insisted on including grocery clerks, cleaning workers and child care providers like Tamara Greene, who directed her comments at the rally to GOP legislators.

“Tell us your justification for excluding us from this bill,” said Greene, director of All Ages & Faces Academy in St. Paul. “We want to know. We find it an insult and an absolute slap in the face.”

DFLers on the committee accused Republicans of rejecting their compromise proposal, which would have cast a wider net while compensating some workers more than others.

Turner, a nurse in the North Memorial hospital intensive care unit, said the GOP wouldn’t succeed in its attempt to divide essential workers.

“That’s not going to fly,” she said. “It never has, and it never will.

“The reason is because I have been at the bedside, along with our other nurses. People from security and cleaning and teaching and the food industry and every other industry represented here – we have been at their deathbeds. We have seen the number of essential workers that have died.”

Lawmakers could supplement the fund with additional dollars, but it would require Gov. Tim Walz to call a special session, giving Republican Senators an opportunity to act on threats from some in the caucus to remove Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, an architect of the state’s pandemic response.

As the political fight drags on, workers like Angie Halseth, a caseworker at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility, are left wondering if the compensation they were promised will ever come. A member of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, Halseth described the additional duties tacked onto her workload during the pandemic, like administering temperature checks to inmates in quarantine.

“But like so many, extra work is just the start of the hardships,” she added. “We’ve all worried that our jobs will make us or our families sick. I’ve had several colleagues become ill from COVID-19 outbreaks at our facilities, including one who gave COVID to their pregnant wife and elderly in-laws.”

Activists were also keen to point out that CEOs in Minnesota have taken exorbitant bonuses and pay raises during the pandemic, while workers in their companies’ warehouses, on their shop floors and elsewhere on the front lines see their “hero pay” held up at the Capitol.

The event began on the sidewalk outside the Ameriprise Financial building, where workers hoisted a large photo of CEO James Caracchiolo with the tagline, “This guy got a 283% raise last year!”

“We are a state that is lucky to have more resources available,” Halseth said. “I am asking the state to spend those resources helping our frontline workers try to be whole again.”


  1. Thelma A. Hardman says:

    For God’s sake,pay all those people that know they have those funds coming!

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