Workers’ COVID-19 Bill of Rights: Getting New Hampshire Back to Work Safely
We all share the common goal of getting New Hampshire back to work. The ability to safely earn a living and support your family is fundamental to New Hampshire. Whether you work for tips, punch a clock, or receive a salary, every job matters and plays a critical part in New Hampshire’s economy. However, COVID-19 is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent history. It’s far more deadly than the flu and far more contagious.
How New Hampshire continues to re-open the economy will answer the fundamental question of whose side are you on. What matters more: corporate profits or keeping people safe? The following measures will keep workers safe and help our economy by giving Granite Staters the confidence to responsibly participate in the economy.
This Workers’ COVID-19 Bill of Rights is a fifteen-point plan that keeps workers safe and puts people and families first:
- Worker Right to Access Testing: New Hampshire is currently last in New England and 29th in the country in testing per capita. As of May 1, New Hampshire has conducted about 24,000 tests. Many workers who are getting called back to work right now don’t have access to adequate testing. To protect our workforce, we should test half a million Granite Staters by June 15, starting with an emphasis on vulnerable populations and on workers reentering the workforce. Additionally, workers in or on job sites with 10 or more employees, or in frontline settings like grocery stores, substance use disorder recovery centers, health care and long-term care facilities should have access to not just one test, but routine and ongoing testing. The State of New Hampshire should partner with employers to help assist them in this effort.
- Worker Right to Access PPE and Hygiene at Worksite: If Granite Staters are required to come back to work then they need the proper protection — not just on day one, but weeks and months into work. Workers cannot be put in situations where they need (or feel the need) to acquire their own PPE or do not have access to proper hand sanitizer/hand washing stations. Additionally, supervisors should receive training and a checklist of questions to ask workers about their health before beginning a shift to ensure that there is daily accountability. As applicable, PPE provided by the employer should be worn at all times. The State of New Hampshire should join the northeast states PPE purchasing partnership to increase our PPE purchasing power and ensure we are not going at this alone. The State of New Hampshire should also partner with employers to help assist them in this effort and help make the distribution of PPE to small businesses as easy as possible.
- Worker Whistleblower Protections, Enforcement, and Reporting Hotline: We must have whistleblower protections for any worker who speaks out against violations of any of the requirements of re-opening or for worker safety. Granite Staters cannot be punished for voicing safety concerns. We’ve already heard about people who don’t feel comfortable coming in to work due to lack of protections — these workers must be protected. The Department of Labor should have clear authority to investigate complaints and enforce these requirements through escalating fines or, if necessary, site shutdowns. The Department of Labor should also establish a hotline set-up to receive anonymous complaints.
- Worker Rights to Continued Access Justice: Legal immunity for businesses is a non-starter. If businesses put their workers at risk and an individual gets sick then the corporation should be held legally liable. There are many great businesses in New Hampshire truly looking out for their employees and customers, but all too often across the country we hear of corporations taking advantage of their employees, which makes these protections critical for re-opening.
- Worker Right to a Workable Unemployment System: Thousands of workers have been without unemployment insurance for weeks, some not receiving a single check, to this day. That’s because the computer system was never adequately prioritized to be updated to reflect expanded COVID-19 eligibility. Unemployment insurance helps keep workers and working families afloat, and, in doing so, they are better able to re-engage in the workplace. As I’ve proposed, monies from the federal CAREs Act and/or Families First Coronavirus Response Act should be used immediately to fix the unemployment computer system.
- Worker Rights to Workers Compensation: Any frontline worker impacted on the job by COVID-19 should have access to workers compensation.
- Worker Rights to Benefits Protections: If workers feel at-risk returning to work, are unable to come back due to preexisting health issues, or feel at-risk once they are back on the job, they should continue to receive unemployment insurance benefits under expanded COVID-19 eligibility, ongoing health insurance, as well as any other employer provided benefits. Additionally, the New Hampshire Department of Insurance should maintain a resources team dedicated to working with any Granite Stater who recently lost their health insurance.
- Worker Right to Quality, Affordable Child Care: In February, about 46,000 Granite State children were in child care, now there are only about 5,000. Workers cannot be put in the impossible position of choosing between their job and their children when called back to work in this reopening. In re-opening the first step must be a comprehensive child care plan that allows for affordable options for parents with young children, across New Hampshire. As I’ve proposed, we must use at least $25 million of federal CAREs Act monies to support the safe operation of child care centers and the pay and benefits of their employees, getting them up and running to support working families including necessary resources to ensure small-group interactions. That includes saving the CFDC at NHTI, a critical pipeline for the day care workers of tomorrow and the working families of today. Child care centers must have access, provided by the state, to all necessary sanitation and protective equipment needed to keep facilities clean and safe.
- Protecting Workers by Region: A Stay-at-Home directive, at a minimum for Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, should have been issued earlier in this public health crisis. It’s also become clear throughout this process that not every area and every job market of New Hampshire is impacted the same. For example, parts of the North Country are not as heavily hit by COVID-19 as Rockingham and Hillsborough counties. Current and future reopening plans should reflect the facts on the ground in the job market, and ideally coordinate with neighboring states, which isn’t happening right now.
- Worker Right to Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance: Had Senate Bill 1 (2019) been signed, workers would have been on a path to having medical leave insurance to allow for them to care for themselves or family members impacted by COVID-19, without risking their families economic security. HB 712 is on the way to the Governor, it should be signed.
- Worker Right to Paid Sick Days — The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act covers paid sick days for employees, under certain circumstances and in some settings for workers impacted by COVID-19. Over 200,000 workers in New Hampshire have no access to paid sick days. All workers should have a right to at least three paid sick days for COVID-19 related reasons.
- Two Years of Free Higher Education for Frontline Workers: Frontline workers in the Granite State should be provided, in the next state budget, at least two years of free community college or university system education. We already need to retain workers here in New Hampshire, we ought to incentivize retaining our frontline heroes — the best of New Hampshire, who helped all of us throughout this crisis.
- Frontline Worker Fund: As I’ve previously proposed, a Frontline Worker Fund of at least $50 million of federal CAREs Act monies to enhance pay for frontline workers, including frontline workers across all sectors of health care, our firefighters and first responders (EMT and police), our corrections officers, our grocery store and delivery workers. This fund will also help attract, retain, and retrain critical employees. The limited version proposed by Governor Sununu must be expanded.
- $15 Minimum Wage for Frontline Workers: Our frontline workers are risking their lives and their family's safety to provide critical services for Granite Staters and they deserve a living wage. This public health crisis has laid bare many of our societal structural deficiencies and that includes how essential workers are compensated.
- Support our Public Employees: Our public employees are dealing with incredibly unique circumstances implementing significant policy changes on the fly. At the state-level, our state employees are still operating without a contract and there is no consistency across work sites. We must support their requests as they keep us afloat.