In a time of pandemic, hazardous work conditions call for fair pay | Opinion

RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: A Costco customer stands by his two shopping carts at a Costco store on March 13, 2020 in Richmond, California. Some Americans are stocking up on food, toilet paper, water and other items after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Elizabeth Fiedler and Kyle Mullins

These are trying times. Many of our friends, family members and neighbors have lost their jobs. And many people in our communities are sick with the fever and respiratory distress of COVID-19.

We mourn the lives Pennsylvania has already lost, and worry over those who are suffering and hospitalized now, fighting for their lives. These are trying times for our state. The physical and mental labor of healthcare workers and first responders is saving and sustaining our loved ones.

Amid all this sadness and struggle, workers across our state have continued to go to work to make sure our families have food, medicine and other essential services.

Without these workers, all of our lives would be even harder right now. We thank all of our state’s essential workers, for the vital work they perform day and night, while many of us follow strict public health orders to stay home. They are keeping us alive and as safe and healthy as possible.

But we need to do more than just thank Pennsylvania’s essential workers. As lawmakers, we need to recognize the tremendous contribution they are making to our state  – in the middle of a health pandemic – and the hazardous conditions they are surrounded by right now, just to do their work.

That is why we are introducing legislation to call on our largest employers to fairly compensate Pennsylvania’s essential workers with hazard pay during the disaster declaration.

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The major retailers and chains that operate stores, processing plants and other large businesses across the Commonwealth continue to generate profits – it is only fair that they recognize it is their workers who are at incredible risk making sure those businesses continue to function.

Whether you consider the food processing plant worker in Northeast PA, or a grocery store cashier in South Philadelphia, it is some of the traditionally lowest paid workers who are holding our communities together right now.

Furthermore, the majority of essential workers are women, for whom the realities of the gendered pay gap mean their current take home pay is even lower than the fair compensation they should be given in these perilous conditions.

We applaud the steps the Governor recently took to put in place safety measures for workers and customers. In the coming weeks and months, as we undertake the careful process of reopening parts of the state’s economy, public health experts say we may face future outbreaks of the Coronavirus and need to scale back what is open for the sake of public health. We have been through a lot and the difficulties will continue , as there will be no quick return to the “old normal.”

As we push through this careful process, those same essential workers who bring our families food, medicine and other life-saving services will continue to report to work under hazardous conditions.

If anything, reopening additional parts of the economy will only expand the number of workers at risk. All of our lives depend on their continued work. We absolutely owe it to them to ensure they are fully, and fairly compensated.

State Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Kyle Mullins, both Democrats, respectively represent the Philadelphia-based 184th House District, and the Lackawanna County-based 112th House District. They write from Harrisburg.