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Congress needs to put Essential Workers first, Vote ‘Yes’ on Build Back Better Budget

October 4, 2021 Updated: October 15, 2021

By Judy Wood

Congress called us essential workers when the pandemic began, but as California’s pandemic death toll reaches 70,000 after the recent COVID-19 Delta surge, it feels like the brave men and women on the frontlines are being forgotten. The continued danger of this latest wave of virus cases is putting our communities at risk and we need action to protect essential workers. 

With Congress preparing to finalize the budget and infrastructure bills this month, it is critical that the final legislation supports essential workers and their families. 

The budget bill in Congress must address four priorities: increase funding for personal protective equipment so frontline workers are not forced to spend their own money on masks and gloves as the pandemic continues, expand paid leave so more workers can get vaccinated without losing a paycheck, strengthen protections for workers to speak out for safer working conditions, and make the child tax credit permanent to so that working parents continue to have the help they need.

As a grocery worker at Albertsons in Fountain Valley proudly serving our community for more than 30 years, nothing could have prepared me for this pandemic and becoming a frontline worker overnight. Helping families across Orange County put food on the table during this crisis is an honor. 

When the pandemic began, our grocery store provided workers with PPE, like blue surgical masks. But this didn’t last and now essential workers like me have to pay for vital protective equipment like masks with money from our own pockets that should be helping provide for our family.

Helping essential workers like me get the vaccine is so important to stopping this dangerous COVID Delta surge and keeping our grocery stores safe. Many friends and co-workers want to get the vaccine but are worried about losing a paycheck if they have to miss work to get the vaccine. This is why it is so important that we guarantee paid leave for all workers to get the vaccine.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the best way for workers to increase workplace safety, wages, and benefits is to form a union. But the right to organize has been eroded. I know not every worker is able to enjoy the benefits of being a union member or is guaranteed the right to try to form a union without fear of retaliation or losing the job they count on to support themselves and their family. 

This is one of the main reasons why Congress must strengthen the rights of workers to speak out for safer and better working conditions, hold companies accountable for violating workers’ rights, and put power in the hands of all workers — not just those in a union — to stand up for the better wages, benefits, and working conditions they have earned.

The message to Congress couldn’t be more clear — include pro-worker policies in the budget reconciliation bill. Essential workers like me have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic since day one. Essential workers in Orange County and across California have earned the support and assistance we are asking Congress and President Biden to deliver. 

The simple truth is that frontline workers feel that some of our elected leaders have not done enough to protect us and pass the pro-worker policies we need. This budget bill in Congress is a chance to change that and put essential workers first.

While the past year has been stressful and incredibly challenging, I have been able to count on support from my union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324, which has always spoken out to ensure essential workers like me have the support we need on the frontlines. Every frontline worker should be able to count on the same protections that come from being in a union and having the support they need to provide for their family and stay safe on the job.

To make sure essential workers are able to continue to serve our communities during this devastating pandemic with dignity and respect, Congress and President Biden must include funding for frontline worker PPE, guarantee paid leave so all workers can get vaccinated without sacrificing a paycheck, strengthen the ability of workers to speak out for safer working conditions, and expand the Child Tax Credit to support hardworking families still struggling as the economy recovers.

For all essential workers, our families, and the communities we serve, we need action now as COVID cases continue to spiral. We are asking Congress to do the right thing by passing the budget and infrastructure bills and ensuring that this vital legislation puts essential workers first as this pandemic continues.

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Judy Wood is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 324 and works at Albertsons in Orange County, California.