BRUNSWICK — Before the COVID crisis, I called the people I work alongside every day “colleagues.” Now, I call them “heroes.”

I am a dietary aide at a long-term care facility in Brunswick, and my co-workers and I are responsible for serving residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s their daily meals and helping them when they need assistance. Every day, we come into work and make sure some of the most vulnerable people in our state are able to eat.

My colleagues and I are just some of the thousands of Mainers deemed “essential workers” by the government; we have to go to work during the pandemic to ensure basic services continue to operate for the benefit of the greater community. In Maine, essential workers include doctors, bus drivers, grocery store clerks, post office workers, trash collectors and teachers. Without them, society would grind to a halt. In my case, it is terrifying to think about what would happen to the residents of my long-term care facility if we were not there to feed them.

Yet make no mistake – for us, just showing up to work is dangerous. Even though the long-term care facility is unbelievably meticulous and provides us with face masks and eye goggles every day, we all still worry about catching the virus. And still, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I know there are workers at nearby factories who don’t have the personal protective equipment they need even after coronavirus outbreaks at their workplaces.

We shouldn’t be dependent on the goodwill of employers to ensure essential workers are protected during this crisis. It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that every one of us has the protection, support and compensation we deserve. And right now, we are far from this reality. A report last month in the Bangor Daily News highlighted that 97 of the state’s confirmed cases – or close to 20 percent of Mainers who have tested positive for coronavirus – have been health care workers on the front lines. Many of them are support staff, including janitors, cooks and receptionists, who are not even earning a living wage for doing lifesaving work. We can all agree this is morally wrong.

This is why we need our leaders like Sen. Susan Collins to step up. Even though Sen. Collins has been quick to praise essential workers, she has done nothing to help us get the protection and compensation we really need. Instead, she supported a massive bailout to help corporate America. Hotels, airlines and other big businesses benefit from this relief package. Long-term care providers like me do not.

But there is still time for Sen. Collins to do the right thing. Congress must pass another stimulus package, and this one must include real relief and protection for workers who are keeping our communities afloat. One proposal in Congress now lays out an essential workers’ bill of rights that would include health and safety protections, hazard pay, universal paid sick leave and family leave, job security and access to benefits, health insurance and child care by law. With this measure, we can finally ensure that essential workers, not corporations or political cronies, are receiving our taxpayer dollars through the stimulus.

I am proud to do my job, but I need to know local elected officials have my back. If Sen. Collins is serious about supporting essential workers in Maine, she’ll have no hesitation signing on to the essential workers’ bill of rights. This action will help those who keep Maine running now, so the rest of the state can get running again soon.

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