Some essential workers feeling left out of Vt. Senate hazard pay bill

Published: May. 3, 2020 at 7:44 PM EDT
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Some hotel workers in Vermont are asking state legislators to include them in the hazard pay discussion.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill on Friday. The legislation gives essential workers making less than $25 an hour hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic. It sets up 30,000 essential workers to get $1,000 a month for three months.

The list includes people who work in nursing homes, grocery stores and child care facilities.

The general manager of the Days Inn on Shelburne Road in Shelburne is pushing for lawmakers to include hotel workers.

“I just don't want them to forget that we are doing our best to take care of these people, so I would hope in return they would not forget about us,” said Garen.

Garen says the hotel is housing 41 homeless and vulnerable people. She says her staff members are now exposed to hazards daily.

“My housekeepers— sometimes they have to clean rooms that have biohazard materials in them, people have weapons. It’s wild," she said.

Although hotel employees were not listed as eligible in the Senate Hazard Pay Bill, Garen thinks Days Inn should qualify since it's operating more like a shelter than a hotel at the moment.

Chittenden County Sen. Chris Pearson says that could potentially make them eligible and that qualified workers must pass two tests. He says they must come in contact with the public on a regular basis and they must be listed as an essential worker.

"Hotels in the traditional sense wouldn't be. But some of our hotels are housing homeless populations or others who are economically vulnerable. In that case, I think they are included,” said Pearson. “Or in another way, intersecting with high traffic areas. So somebody cleaning a doctor's office at night isn't intersecting with the public but they're clearly in places with a lot of germs that potentially would be exposed to COVID."

Pearson says there’s an exception in the hazard pay bill for nurses working in nursing homes who make more than $25 an hour, but not for nurses working in hospitals.

“A lot of them are earning more than 25 bucks an hour. So they are not necessarily included that way and there are also other programs going directly to health care facilities like hospitals from the federal government. So what we’re trying to do with this proposal is fill in some of the gaps that the federal government has not recognized or not yet recognized. So hospitals are included but the wage scale may well mean a lot of those worked as not included, particularly nurses,” he said.

Pearson says the bill also exempts public workers like city and state employees and teachers.

“Public workers are excluded from this bill. State workers have negotiated through their union and part of the feeling was a lot of public workers have unions that can broker this with their employer,” he said. “We needed to stand up for the many people who don’t have representation in the workplace and try or give them a boost as they’ve been so essential to keep our communities humming.”

Pearson says there will be an entity tasked to make those final calls of who is eligible.