Want to Thank Pandemic Workers? Pay Them.

    Over the last fifteen months, as I drive around New England and other parts of the East Coast, I see these nice signs with hearts on them giving thanks to the workers who kept this country going during the pandemic.
            Routinely, these folks who went to work every day in the face of dangers to themselves and their loved ones are called “heroes.”
            It is funny how we so readily toss words around to make ourselves feel better when others step up to help us selflessly. But in America, shouldn’t we thank people for their work by paying them for the work they do?
            And when the jobs are dangerous, shouldn’t we pay them more? The only truly authentic way to thank someone for working is with a paycheck. That’s my opinion anyway. And I suspect for people who work, they would agree.
            I used to be an avid watcher of the television show Mad Men. There was a scene in one episode where Peggy Olson, the hotshot advertising protégé was lamenting to her boss, Don Draper, that she had not been given enough credit for the amazing work that she had done. She was begging for an attaboy. And Draper, the no-nonsense boss, looked her in the eye and said “that’s what the paycheck is for.” Indeed.
            Why during the pandemic were we so quick to lavish empty praise but slow to deposit money in the bank accounts of those who took on so much risk? Over the last generation or two that seems to have become an American ideal. As if a pat on the back can overcome pay inequality. As if a sign on the lawn will excuse those who refuse to pay their fair share.
               Finally, some legislators seemed to be taking some action on this front. When President Biden was able to ram his American Rescue Plan Act through a partisan Congress to the tune of $1.9 trillion, there was an important provision in there to honor the work that our essential workers performed during the pandemic.
            The provision set aside tens of billions of dollars in funding for states and local communities that would provide premium pay of at least $13.00 per hour to a maximum of $25,000 per worker for essential work performed during the pandemic. The funding could go not just to public employees, but also to workers at private employers who performed work in “critical infrastructure” industries. The federal funds are to be allocated by state governments.
            Connecticut received $2.6 billion in ARPA funding from which the premium pay is supposed to be distributed. But out of that $2.6 billion, Governor Lamont has tentatively set aside just $10 million and only for state workers.  
            That is .4% of the total allocated to the state. That is the value the Governor has put on essential workers who showed up every day in the face of the pandemic. That is, in relative terms, less than the cost of the construction paper to draw a red heart with the words “Thank You.” It is, frankly, disgusting.
            So a suggestion: maybe it is time for workers to stop taking it from this Governor and this legislature and start calling to find out where the money is. While the members of the General Assembly were drinking in the parking lot and slapping themselves on the back last month, maybe they should have been ensuring that workers get paid with the federal money that was sent to the state.

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