Topics: UFCW Members in Action

California Budget Must Not Ignore Essential Workers Who Sacrificed Most in the Pandemic

Daniel de la Cruz, a worker from Food 4 Less in Los Angeles, and member of UFCW Local 770, is one of the essential workers who put his health on the line each day going to work to provide for his family. “I’ve been assaulted, I’ve been coughed on, I’ve been yelled at and attacked personally by customers calling me derogatory names. This was hard to take mentally and emotionally. Getting hero’s pay makes me feel not only supported but respected. All we’re asking for is that essential workers like myself must not be ignored.”


Millions of Californians owe their lives and health to essential workers who put themselves and their families at great risk to keep the state running while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. As our state looks to build back better, we cannot forget the brave workers who stocked our grocery shelves, cleaned our hospitals, risked exposure in checkout lines, cared for dying patients in ICUs and nursing homes, and endured tight quarters in meat processing plants to help get California through the pandemic.

Essential workers risked their lives, and the lives of elderly parents and vulnerable children at home to ensure Californians remained healthy. Healthcare workers in particular spent months away from their families to keep them safe. They slept outside in tents to guarantee they wouldn’t take the virus home to their families. These dangerous and grueling working conditions have taken a toll. Since March of 2020, at least one in four healthcare workers have considered leaving their job, and 14% of those workers have considered leaving the profession altogether. 

California is already facing a future with an insufficient workforce to meet our healthcare needs. COVID-19 has only increased our demand for qualified workers, outpacing the number of people entering the field. California needs approximately 500,000 new healthcare workers by 2024. Providing care for all who need it in the future is dependent on retaining our healthcare workforce. We now have an opportunity to improve the retention of the healthcare workforce and recognize the incredible efforts and sacrifices healthcare workers have made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by providing Hazard Pay to these frontline heroes.

It’s not just healthcare workers who have faced risk by going to work each day. Essential workers throughout the state have held the frontline in our grocery stores, fast food restaurants, as janitors and security officers, and in transportation have continued to do their jobs at great personal risk to themselves and their families. 

“I have been an armed officer in charge of protecting the Los Angeles County Probation Department for 17 years and I am an essential worker.  My job is very important to me and I love what I do. Even when it gets stressful, I go to work every day knowing I keep people safe. While some people were able to stay home when the pandemic hit, essential workers like myself were not. We continue to show up every day, even though we knew we were exposing ourselves and our families to get to getting sick. I asked that you support essential workers and recognize the risk that we take to make sure we keep California running.” -Tonie Wilson, a Security Officer in Los Angeles

Essential workers have worked throughout the pandemic with very little protection, all so millions of Californians can stay safely at home. Many of these essential workers are employed in low-paying professions, work closely next to their co-workers, and often receive insufficient benefits. The sacrifice they made is evidenced by a report by the University of California, Merced, which showed a 38% increase in deaths of California workers in high-risk industries last year. Workers in food-supply chain industries comprised four of the ten California industries with the highest increase in deaths. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, California’s essential workers have been there for all of us when we needed them most, putting themselves in harm’s way just by showing up to work. It’s time we recognize the enormous effort and sacrifice our essential workers have made and show them the respect and appreciation they deserve. California’s essential workers deserve Hazard Pay.  And California has the opportunity to do just that. Governor Newsom and legislators must take American Rescue Act funds to recognize these workers’ sacrifice and invest in their strength. Hazard Pay would provide badly needed support and recognition to our frontline workers, helping to ensure that our state will have the experienced and healthy workforce it needs to build back better.

Investing in the people who carried us through the pandemic is the right thing to do.

If you’d like to join the conversation on Hazard Pay, please consider sharing your story on social media, and be sure to tag us, using the hashtag #HazardPayNOW.