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MD members push for essential worker protections

Photo credit: Getty
By Katie Mostris, AFSCME Maryland Council 3 ·
MD members push for essential worker protections
Photo credit: AFSCME Maryland Council 3. AFSCME members discuss two worker-safety bills that the Maryland Legislature is considering.

BALTIMORE – More than 60 members of AFSCME Maryland Council 3 participated in a virtual Health and Safety Lobby Night this month to push for two important pieces of legislation: the Illness and Injury Prevention Program and the Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of front-line and essential workers and the gaps in health and safety laws in Maryland. Since last fall, AFSCME Council 3’s Health and Safety Legislative Committee has been meeting weekly to support these pieces of legislation and prepare for this session.

The Injury and Illness Prevention Programs legislation (HB923/SB728) is sponsored by Del. Joseline Pena Melnyk and Sen. Brian Feldman. This bill would require:

“Last year, we had an incident where my co-workers and I raised concerns about the furniture in our facility being a safety risk for patients and staff because they were not secured and could be used as a weapon,” said Breanna Suiter, a member of AFSCME Local 354 who also sits on Council 3’s Health and Safety Legislative Committee. “Management ignored our concerns resulting in thousands of dollars of property damage and assaults on workers. If the Injury and Illness Prevention Program were passed, we would have been able to file a complaint and force management to take action.”

The Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act (HB581/SB486) was introduced by Del. Dereck Davis and Sen. Malcolm Augustine. Council 3 has been working with other Maryland unions and nonprofit organizations to pass this legislation, which would be critical for essential workers across the state. If passed, when a state of emergency is called, essential workers will be guaranteed the following:

Augustine joined Council 3 on the Feb. 1 lobby night to discuss the legislation and committed to working with AFSCME to fight for protections of front-line and essential workers. On Feb. 5, two Council 3 members testified on the importance of the legislation at a committee hearing.

“I’m proud that there have been no outbreaks and no staff or patient deaths at my facility but we are now coming up on a year of enduring this pandemic,” said Ikeia Cornish, a member of AFSCME Local 770. “Many of my co-workers are facing their third or fourth quarantine and have depleted the emergency paid sick leave. We need to pass the Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act so front-line staff like us have additional leave to keep our facilities safe. No one should have to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

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