The last 15 months have been tough for Denise Bonds, a health care worker at Detroit Medical Center. She battled COVID-19 for three weeks during that period and witnessed a co-worker forced to do the same.
“We are more than our jobs,” said Bonds on Thursday. “We are human beings…We want to be appreciated for our contributions. But we also want to be valued and have the support to take care of ourselves. Essential workers deserve better. We deserve hero pay and fair pay for the long term.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued a proclamation marking June 17 as Essential Worker Appreciation Day in Michigan.
“I am thankful for all of our essential workers for bravely stepping up throughout the pandemic to keep Michiganders safe and our economy running,” said Whitmer during an event held at Mission Point Nursing Home in Detroit’s Lafayette Park community. “From staffing our hospitals to keeping our grocery store shelves stocked, essential workers selflessly served during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the well-being of their fellow Michiganders. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Tamara Blue, nursing home worker and member of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, called for increased pay for her and colleagues.
“This year was the toughest year of our lives. Essential workers are proud of how we showed up for our communities but now, we need support,” said Blue. “We’ve been called heroes, but not treated as such. We work hard, but still can’t afford basic needs, like rent and healthcare. Many of us can’t afford to take time off to recover after this traumatic year. It is time for that to change — for essential workers to be valued and respected.”
With federal relief funding available to the state, a “Hero Pay” proposal has been put forward by state Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit) and state Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint). It would provide a one-time $1,000 for first responders and a $2-per-hour for direct-care workers who provide Medicaid-funded care. The GOP-led state House and Senate are considering the proposal.
Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, agrees with Whitmer.
“Hardworking folks in essential roles have risked their lives to care for the sick, keep us fed and clothed, deliver goods and deliver us where we need to go, and so much more,” said Bieber. “Today as a state we say thank you to everyone who’s risked their health and safety to keep our state running, and on behalf of working people we say thank you to the governor for doing what’s necessary to protect and support frontline workers throughout the pandemic.”