Essential Workers Deserve More than Praise

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The COVID-19 outbreak has directed a spotlight on the often-overlooked, essential work of grocery and convenience store employees, postal service and delivery workers, warehouse staff, and hospital workers from janitorial staff to ICU doctors.

Who are the essential workers in Texas out there keeping us healthy and making sure we can get the food and necessities we all need? State-level data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows that:

  • Texas essential workers are disproportionately women (62.8%).
  • People of color are overrepresented (61.2% of essential workers are Black, Hispanic, or Asian) in comparison to the overall workforce.
  • About 20% of essential workers in Texas are immigrants, and these workers are especially critical to keeping the trucking and warehouse sectors operating in Texas, as well as the Postal Service.

While applauding essential workers on social media is nice, essential workers who have kept our state running through the pandemic deserve more than our thanks. These workers deserve wages that allow them to support their families and standards to keep their families healthy and safe. 

Health Coverage: Over 19% of essential workers exposed daily to COVID-19 in Texas lack health insurance, including almost a quarter of child care workers and almost half in the building cleaning services industry. Texas officials revealed last week that the state has requested federal funding to cover the costs of COVID-19 tests for uninsured Texans. We look forward to supporting the implementation of this new funding and working with the Governor and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to ensure Texas also takes necessary steps to make sure tests are available regardless of citizenship status. Beyond testing, we will continue to advocate for state and federal solutions to covering costs of COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured.

Wages: 27% of essential workers in Texas are supporting their families on low incomes of less than 200% of the poverty level. CPPP recommends increasing the state minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) and allowing local communities to set higher regional wage thresholds.

Paid Sick Leave: 4.3 million Texas workers lacked access to paid sick leave before this crisis began. Exclusions in recent federal legislation providing additional emergency temporary paid sick leave miss up to 4.8 million Texans. State leaders should make sure all Texas workers have access to this critical standard to protect the health of our communities and end the attack on local paid sick days ordinances.

Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML): Close to 40% of essential workers in Texas have children at home, and essential workers disproportionately have elders (65+) living in the household. However, PFML is generally not available to low wage or part-time workers, including those currently putting their health at risk as essential workers. While emergency paid sick leave was an important step for Congress to take, it will, unfortunately, have too small of an impact and comes with several shortfalls. CPPP encourages state leaders to recognize the importance of ensuring all workers can take paid leave when they need it by establishing a statewide PFML guarantee when longer absences are required.

Workers’ Compensation: In Texas, workers’ compensation insurance benefits for contracting a respiratory illness are available for first responders. The Texas AFL-CIO has called on Governor Abbott to issue an Executive Order extending this same guarantee to other medical and non-medical essential workers. Without this protection, essential workers will have to prove that they caught COVID-19 on the job to get the benefits they deserve.

CPPP will continue to fight to ensure essential workers — and all workers — are able to thrive by advocating for policies that keep hard-working Texans healthy and financially secure.

Mia Ibarra helps develop and coordinate advocacy and engagement strategies across all of CPPP’s policy areas. She joined the Center in 2012 as an Outreach Associate and coordinator of Texas Forward, a state-wide revenue coalition, and has since focused on a variety of issue areas including immigration and family-friendly workplace policies like paid sick days. Mia holds a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Arts in political economy from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.