VBSR Supports Additional Pay for Frontline Workers

Essential with heart

The passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, threw several much-needed financial lifelines to Vermont’s families, businesses, and workers. As the state grapples with record unemployment numbers, recently laid off workers are now receiving a $600 increase in unemployment pay on top of the State’s existing benefit. Meanwhile small businesses have access to a suite of new loans to keep their doors open and employees on board. While this has provided financial security for many of Vermont’s most vulnerable and taken a marked step toward curtailing the virus’ spread, it has also created a difficult conundrum for many of our essential businesses, who are struggling to decide whether they should keep their employees on or lay them off to collect often greater pay.

This raises significant questions about equitable pay and employee retention in the COVID-19 era.

VBSR has long supported developing what we call “livable jobs” – a vision for economic growth centered on the creation of jobs with good wages and benefits. Income inequality has slowly chipped away at the earnings of lower and middle-income Vermonters over the years, many of whom are the essential employees working at the frontlines of this pandemic to provide food, medical care, and other key services.

As the state and federal government search for solutions to keep essential employees in the workplace, we are encouraging the legislature to support additional pay to Vermont’s essential employees to achieve the greatest degree of parity possible with the unemployment benefits they might otherwise receive.

Time and time again, VBSR members paying higher wages have consistently reported stronger staff retention and a greater sense of investment in the work they do.  We believe that state or federally funded hazard pay for our essential workers, coupled with the benefits they already receive, will ensure that they are justly compensated not only for the work they’re doing but for also for putting their health and safety on the line to keep Vermont going.

State employers have already started moving in this direction, offering pay increases to at-risk state workers. Meanwhile, the Vermont Senate has convened a working group to explore providing hazard pay to essential workers in our private sector. VBSR is offering feedback to the working group and recently testified before the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee expressing our support.

Vermont’s socially responsible business community is just that, a community. A movement of people dedicated to making a positive impact on their homes, their environments, and the lives of their employees. The coronavirus pandemic has changed how we’re able to do this, but it hasn’t shaken our commitment to leading with our values and standing together in the face of adversity. From doctors and nurses to grocers and sanitation workers, we owe it to our frontline employees, who are risking their lives everyday, to provide them with equitable compensation, recognition, and protection.

Additional pay for Vermont’s essential workers is just that–essential.