Jeffrey Reid said he fears for his life every time he leaves his Mount Rainier home traveling for his meat department job at Giant Food Store.
“This was my job. I knew this is what I had to do,” said Reid, a 13-year shop steward for UFCW Local 400. “I know the bills had to be paid but in the back of my mind, I’m going out here every day saying, ‘Would this [be] the day I contract this virus or someone would give it to me?’”
Reid spoke in support of Maryland legislation to provide safety and financial support for grocery store workers, nurses and other essential employees during emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Other workers spoke during a virtual ceremony Thursday, March 18 on the bill labeled the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act. Part of the proposed legislation includes hazard pay at $3 per hour, employer-provided personal protective equipment and 14 days of paid health leave.
The paid health leave would be in addition to paid sick leave.
Other parts of the legislation would require an employer to pay for any testing “for a contagious illness or disease” if an employee’s health insurance doesn’t cover the cost.
A company that doesn’t provide worker protection would receive a financial penalty up to $1,000.
“We are the ones who make this world go round,” said Sherri Howard, a labor and delivery nurse at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly.
“We expect our legislators would make sure they actually walk with us so they can know what it’s like to work during the pandemic . . . and reusing their PPE. I had to reuse my N-95 [mask]. Nobody should work in subpar environments.”
Two Prince George’s County lawmakers, Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly and Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville, sponsored the bill in their respective chambers that includes three days of bereavement leave for a family member who died from an emergency.
The General Assembly held “crossover day” Monday, March 22 – the deadline for bills passed in the Senate or House chambers to be reviewed in the opposite chamber. The final day of the session is scheduled for April 12.
Public hearings already took place last month before the Senate’s Finance Committee and the House’s Economic Matters Committee.
Although the essential workers bill has not been approved, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said during a media briefing work on the bill will continue beyond that deadline. A key to the legislation, he said, will be striking a balance to help essential workers and business owners.
“We have to make sure to balance the interests and the importance of our essential workers with the economic vitality and re-emergence of our business community post-pandemic,” he said. “[The bill] probably doesn’t look the same as it was introduced.”
The fiscal and policy note from the state Department of Legislative Services highlights the bill would cost $241,000 to implement this fiscal year and jump to $647,500 in fiscal year 2022. The department’s analysis states the small business impact as “meaningful.”