Essential employees such as grocery clerks and janitors need better pay and protection, lawmakers say
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By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, April 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United States must provide decent wages, health benefits and protective gear for the millions of workers designated as essential during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a measure proposed on Monday in the U.S. Congress.
Employees such as grocery clerks, janitors and delivery drivers are at risk without equipment and job protection, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna, Democratic lawmakers who unveiled the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.
The proposal, which calls for adequate protective gear, better pay, universal paid sick leave, family leave and other measures, must be part of Congress' next coronavirus relief package, they said.
A $2.3 trillion coronavirus rescue package passed by Congress was signed into law by President Donald Trump last month and lawmakers have been hammering out a fresh relief effort this week.
"Essential workers are the backbone of our nation's response to coronavirus," said Warren, a former contender for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, in a statement.
"We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve."
The government has said the economy shed 701,000 jobs in March - the most job losses since the Great Recession and ended the longest employment boom in U.S. history from late 2010.
The United States has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country, with more than 23,000 deaths as of Monday morning, according to a Reuters tally.
While most of the nation has been advised to stay home and practice social distancing, essential workers on the job include health care staff, government employees, janitorial staff, farm workers and transportation workers, the lawmakers said.
"Nearly 60 million Americans are still working to keep our internet running, to deliver our groceries, to make sure we have electricity, and to care for the sick," Khanna said in a statement.
Others in Congress have proposed a Heroes Fund with significant pay raises or suggested added hazard pay wages in the next stimulus package for frontline essential workers.
Congress has "a moral responsibility" to pass the Workers Bill of Rights, said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, a liberal political organization.
"If we can find the resources to bail out the cruise and airline industries and other big corporations, we can support the people who risk their lives every day to care for the ill, stock store shelves and care for children," Mitchell said.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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