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Essential workers mark one-year anniversary of COVID-19

A group of Minnesota's essential workers demand paid time off and vaccine eligibility.

ST PAUL, Minn. — On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency because of the spread of COVID-19. Today, several of Minnesota's essential workers marked the grim anniversary with a call for change.

From outside the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations building, down the street from the Capitol, they called on Minnesota lawmakers to pass a Quarantine Pay Bill.

It would allow essential workers to be paid when they need to take time off work for COVID-related reasons. It would also provide retroactive pay for those who've already gone without it.

Mary Turner is president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

"They're not covered when they have to go to quarantine," Turner said. "They go without pay when they have to care for a sick family member or a child without a classroom. They have isolated themselves in hotel rooms, basements, even backyards because most of all they can't afford to get sick."

The demand for change comes as the nation marks one year of COVID. Nurses like Turner, janitors like Elia Starkweather, and Amazon warehouse workers like Gulad Ahmed were all deemed essential last year.

"A lot of people, they call us like essential workers angels, superheroes, to go to work every single day," Starkweather said. "Nobody is taking care of us like we are. Human beings."

That's because compliments are not compensation. Praise is not pay.

"We can't just choose rent over health," Ahmed said. "Some of them are going to work because they don't want to miss the payment."

In addition to money, Starkweather says they want the chance to get the COVID vaccine.

"We are in the last part of the list and we, I, ask for the [vaccine]," she said.

Saturday's rally involved We Make Minnesota, SEIU Minnesota State Council, Minnesota AFL-CIO, Unidos MN, Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association, Awood Center, and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. In addition to the in-person event, essential workers from St. Cloud, Worthington, Madelia, Rochester, and Duluth participated virtually.

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