Emergency Leave a Priority Amongst Minnesota Workers


Essential workers tell lawmakers: Minnesotans support emergency leave

Thousands of essential workers in Minnesota have lost hours or exhausted their paid time off after being exposed to the coronavirus over the past 15 months, while a measure that would make them whole remains caught up in Capitol gridlock.

That needs to change, according to more than 5,000 nurses, janitors, educators, child care workers and other Minnesotans who signed onto a petition in support of the Essential Workers Emergency Leave Act.

Union members delivered the petitions to Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders today after holding a press conference on the Capitol steps.

“We deserve more than nice words, pats on the back and hearty handshakes,” said Bill Schwandt, a paraprofessional in the Bloomington schools and member of Education Minnesota. “We deserve to be remembered, respected and, yes, compensated for the work that we did.”

Lawmakers are scrambling to negotiate the particulars of a $52 billion, two-year budget by the end of the month. The budget taps into federal relief funds that, as several workers pointed out, should prioritize support for essential workers, according to guidance from the Department of Treasury.

Emergency leave for time lost would help workers like Eva Lopez, a local janitor, regain their footing. Lopez is vice president of Service Employees (SEIU) Local 26, which represents janitors and security guards in the Twin Cities, and she said over 1,000 members of her union have missed work to quarantine or wait for test results.

“Most don’t make enough to have big savings accounts, and we can never work from home,” Lopez said via a translator. “This year has been so hard.”