Reflecting on Two Years of COVID-19


A delivery worker holds two boxes that read "Support workers, not corporations: paid family leave, paid sick leave, protective gear, hazard pay now!" A green banner reads: "Essential, not disposable!"
Support Workers Not Corporations by artist Melanie Cervantes.

An estimated six million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide. More than 957,000 of those deaths were in the United States, the largest death toll of any country. Unfortunately, the number of confirmed cases and deaths is widely believed to be an undercount of the true toll 

Yet, it’s only one measure of COVID’s devastating impact; it doesn’t account for people still becoming infected, those suffering from long-haul COVID, those left with permanent disabilities because of this virus, and families whose economic security was shattered by the pandemic.  

Not surprisingly, communities of color in the United States have borne the brunt of COVID’s impact, due to the compounding effects of longstanding structural racism across healthcare, labor, housing, and education, and in the ability to accumulate generational wealth.  

From the start, NELP has called for a pandemic response that rises to the scale of the devastation. While that did not happen, we still believe that a just and equitable recovery must put those most harmed and systematically oppressed—Black people and people of color, immigrants, women, and all people with risk of complications and in higher-risk jobs—at the center of public policy.  

Over the last couple of years, we have achieved some major wins and some temporary gains—on issues such as worker health and safety, unemployment insurance, and raising wages—that should be celebrated, expanded, and made permanent. As we look toward the future, the pandemic will serve as a guidepost for systems transformation.  

Health and safety. Since the pandemic began, NELP has sought to meet the urgent health and safety needs of workers. In 2022, we continue to advocate for strong federal agency efforts to protect against community and workplace spread of COVID-19. We know the pandemic is not over, and we agree with public health experts who recommend that people continue wearing high-quality masks indoors, have adequate supply of rapid tests, and that workplaces everywhere ensure their indoor ventilation systems are operating effectively to protect workers and all others who enter their places of business. We remain steadfast in our position that the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the burden to procure it should never be passed onto workers.  

At the state and local levels, we are supporting the enactment of laws and policies to keep workers and the public safe. As we explore the intersection of climate justice and worker rights, we will support campaigns—in the South and Southeast, for example—to enact standards to protect workers from the dangers of working in extreme heat. Those workers include growing numbers of incarcerated people who are forced to work in conditions that expose them to heat stress. 

Unemployment insurance. For decades, NELP has promoted fundamental reform and expansion of the unemployment insurance (UI) program. During the pandemic, we worked closely with Congress and the Biden administration to win $664.9 billion in UI benefits for workers, and monitored and pushed for effective delivery of these benefits across the country. The expanded and enhanced UI benefits that were in place between March 2020 and September 2021, were a vital lifeline and the first line of defense against homelessness and poverty for families facing job loss. Unfortunately, they expired too soon, and we reverted to a UI system that excludes workers, particularly workers of color, far more often than it provides support. So, the fight continues in 2022 as we focus on increasing access and broadening eligibility for UI benefits in states to ensure workers—especially workers of color—are not excluded from supports. The Fund Excluded Workers worker-led coalition in New York State is an example of bold action to support undocumented workers. Together with allies, we are also developing a long-term vision for a robust set of federal priorities that will transform the UI system to ensure all workers have the resources they need in both good and bad economic times. 

Raising wages. The Fight for $15 and the COVID-19 pandemic have forced a reckoning in low-paying industries, with workers demanding and winning better wages across the country. As Florida voters proved in 2020 (when they approved an initiative to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026), raising wages is popular regardless of political affiliation. Congress must heed the demands of workers and pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and abolish the subminimum wages that are currently legal for tipped workers, youth workers, and disabled workers. NELP is also supporting state and local campaigns to raise pay and strengthen overtime protections for workers, including agricultural, domestic, and tipped workers, whose exclusion from such standards is emblematic of systemic racism.  

NELP is fighting for a good-jobs economy. A good-jobs economy means we have economic security over a lifetime. It means we can count on just working conditions, benefits, and wages—where equity is baked into policies and employers are accountable. A good-jobs economy is built on worker power, with which we collectively shape the conditions of the job to ensure our communities rise together. We hope you’ll join us and support us in our fight for a good-jobs economy.  


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About the Author

Rebecca Dixon

Areas of expertise:
  • Occupational Segregation,
  • Program Management,
  • Unemployment Insurance,
  • Workplace Equity

NELP is led by President and Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Dixon. Rebecca is a respected national leader in federal workers’ rights advocacy and is in great demand for her thought leadership on issues of labor and racial, gender, and economic justice.

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