Minnesota union members led the fight to secure bonus pay for 1 million frontline workers

“It was hard times, but we made it through,” said Keith Farr, a meat cutter at Lunds and Byerlys.

Over 1 million Minnesotans will begin receiving payments of $487.45 from the State of Minnesota this week as a token of public appreciation for their work on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As emails carrying the news began appearing in workers’ inboxes yesterday, union members who led the push for bonus pay gathered at the Capitol in St. Paul to celebrate the victory with the lawmakers who carried the measure in the House and Senate.

“This is a thank you to those who made safe happen,” said Rachel Hanneman, an intensive care nurse who worked at Bethesda and St. Joseph’s hospitals during the pandemic.

A member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, Hanneman worked in coalition with members of other unions to demand lawmakers compensate all workers who, by showing up to their jobs, helped keep the state’s economy running during the COVID-19 emergency.

Union nurses and other coalition members notably rejected efforts last year, after the Legislature approved a $250 million bonus pool, to pit frontline workers against each other. They refused to accept a proposal that would have excluded thousands of retail, public service, hospitality and other workers from recognition payments, and they succeeded in lobbying for a larger allocation, which Gov. Tim Walz signed into law April 29.

“Every effort was made to include anyone who had no choice but to go to work in order to continue to receive a paycheck,” Hanneman said. “We stood firm that health care workers never carried the weight alone.”

Applications for frontline worker payments exceeded the number anticipated by state officials, which meant payments fell short of the estimate of $750 from last spring.

But for Gene Sparks, an EMT and member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, the bonus delivers on the outpouring of gratitude he and other frontline workers received at the height of the pandemic, which, he said, “often felt like empty words.”

“So many of us, especially health care workers, faced unimaginable challenges during the first year of COVID,” said Sparks, who worked in the emergency department of St. Francis hospital in Shakopee. “Long shifts, uncertain procedures and the constant threat of infection to ourselves, our patients and our loved ones had many of us worried throughout the day and sleepless at night.”

“It’s better than nothing,” said Keith Farr, a meat cutter at Lunds and Byerlys. The father of three said he and his wife plan to put the money toward their rent payment.

“I’m just happy that we’re finally getting this payment,” he added. “It was hard times, but we made it through.”

Nearly 1.2 million Minnesotans submitted applications for frontline worker payments over the summer. Those who were initially denied payments had 15 days to appeal in August, and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry processed those appeals last month, with a final eligibility count of 1,025,655 workers.

Eligible applicants will receive an email from the state this week, and payments will go out by direct bank deposit or debit card, depending on which preference the applicant chose upon filing. Nicole Blissenbach, acting commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry, said the agency will continue processing payments through the fall.

Lawmakers and workers applauded state employees for quickly developing an application and appeals process from scratch.

“It’s hard for me to believe it has only been a little over five months since this bill was signed into law by Gov. Walz,” Blissenbach said.

Two DFLers who authored the legislation, Rep. Cedrick Frazier of New Hope and Sen. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, agreed that it was a good day for workers in Minnesota – one that would not have come without the persistence of union members working in the frontline worker coalition.

“It did not cease to amaze me over the seven months that we listened to your stories the sacrifices that we did not know about that you all made,” Frazier said.

Added Murphy: “It is proof that when we lead with purpose and we persist despite entrenched politics, we can make progress for the people of Minnesota.”


  1. James Bradford III says:

    Many thanks and blessings to the workers ❤️❤️🙌🙌


  1. […] frontline workers’ health, safety and voice on the job. And frontline workers have started to receive long-overdue payments in recognition of their service to the state. We can see Gov. Walz’s leadership working in other […]

%d bloggers like this: