D.C.’s essential workers demand ‘hero pay’

1907
The Heroes Pay Act of 2021 is set to be a one time payment to thousands of essential workers that risked their lives and their health during the pandemic. This includes transportation drivers, grocery store employees, doctors and more. (Courtesy photo)

By Joshua Moore
Special to the AFRO

The Metro Washington Labor Council, along with essential workers from across the District, hosted a virtual press conference to urge the D.C. Council to fund $20 million for the Heroes Pay Act of 2021. 

The act is set to be a one time payment to thousands of essential workers that risked their lives and their health during the pandemic. This includes transportation drivers, grocery store employees, doctors and more. 

The Heroes Pay Act was introduced by Labor Committee Chair Elissa Silverman as a part of her committee budget. It was unanimously voted in support of her council members.

Dyana Forester, president of the Metro Washington Labor Council, adamantly endorsed the bill throughout the press conference. 

Forester spoke about these essential workers as heroes: civilians that put their health and safety on the line in order to provide for their families. In this sense of the word, they are heroes. She also believes that this act is a way to compensate those who have sacrificed. 

“We need to take care of the people that took care of us,” Forester said. 

Davis Louis, chair of Metro Washington Council’s Black Live Matter committee, weighed in during the press conference. He said that  while compensation is a necessary step, it shouldn’t be the last. 

“It doesn’t fully get us there,” Louis admitted. “But it is a good first step.”

Workers from all industries shared personal stories of their resilience throughout the pandemic. They told viewers of their sacrifices made during the pandemic as well as why the Heroes Act would benefit them. Kelli Jenkins and Thomas Lee were two names that perked ears. 

Jenkins is a medical assistant that works in D.C. When there were deaths in her family, she would have to leave work to attend funerals. However, she wasn’t able to get paid leave, so she went without pay. She believes that the Heroes Act should reimburse for the time and money she lost while attending to personal matters. 

Thomas Lee is a grocer at Giant. Early on in the pandemic, he was forced to take a job in order to provide for his family. Lee said that since he risked his health and safety, he should be compensated for working during the pandemic. 

Forester concluded the press conference by reiterating that the act is not a payment to individuals specifically. Instead, they will be grants awarded to D.C. district employers to give to their workers. 

The payments would come in two forms: 

A $500 payment for eligible workers that worked at least 100 hours between March 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021. $250 for eligible workers that completed essential work for at least 50 hours after May 1, 2021. 

Although the act was unanimously supported by the council, it seems that it takes more effort in order to put it into action. Hopefully, this press conference is the spark that is needed for D.C. essential workers.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!