The Potluck

Lawmakers agree to provide bonus pay to essential workers who took unpaid time off during pandemic

By: - June 22, 2021 4:36 pm

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, speak to reporters on June 21, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

So-called essential workers who took unpaid time off during the height of the pandemic will receive some bonus pay under a deal announced Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. 

“We have agreed to a worker bonus,” he said. “It’s well over $200 million.” He said he was “not at liberty” to say more. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, later said that deal amounts to $250 million and that a work group of nine people appointed by the House, Senate and governor’s office will determine which workers will be eligible. 

A labor source with knowledge of the negotiations offered a caveat: “We’re being told nothing’s in writing.” 

A House DFL spokesman said the worker bonus was in exchange for an extension on the state’s reinsurance program sought by Republicans that aims to keep health care premiums low for people who purchase health insurance through MNSure.

If the compromise is in place it would settle legislation intended to help workers who suffered loss of income and paid time off during the pandemic and were not compensated. House Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, authored legislation tackling the complex issue that seeks to help those who were left out of federal legislation guaranteeing paid time off during the pandemic. This includes people who work for private entities of more than 500 workers, first responders and health care workers, who were left without paid leave by federal legislation despite the risks of COVID-19 infection and frequent need to quarantine.

Smaller entities of fewer than 500 workers were given a tax credit — which they can secure immediately by not having to pay Medicare payroll taxes — in exchange for providing paid medical leave. The DFL and its allies would like to compel them to do so.

Any proposal would apply to hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who wound up ineligible for paid time off during the pandemic. In addition to nurses, nursing home workers and other health care providers, Minnesotans like janitors and security officers at large commercial buildings were often left unprotected because they work at big companies that were exempted from the federal mandate of paid time off for COVID-19 illness and quarantining.

A $250 million solution would mean $1,000 per worker if 250,000 apply. 


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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.