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City Council signals support for frontline workers

Charlottesville officials are tentatively backing a regional effort to provide support to essential workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The City Council discussed the Frontline Workers Fair Treatment Charter during its meeting early Tuesday morning.

The charter, which would provide guarantees to workers as the pandemic continues, was developed by the University of Virginia’s Equity Center, Network2Work at Piedmont Virginia Community College and UVa’s President’s Council.

Ben Allen, executive director of The Equity Center, said the charter would allow public and private employers to be certified as meeting a list of 12 employment practices laid out in the charter.

“I believe we all think these are practices that should happen regardless,” he said. “These are practices that we should just have in general for workers in this area.”

The charter says that frontline workers should be provided personal protective equipment at no cost and have easy access to free testing. Frontline workers include but are not limited to: healthcare workers, utilities and maintenance personnel and customer service representatives.

Employers would provide mental health support services while workers and managers would be trained on risks and safety measures and consider equity in enforcing policies to protect workers.

The charter calls for flexible work schedules, paid sick leave, child care, affordable health care safe and reliable transit and open hiring practices.

It says workers who are not willing to risk returning to work should be given fair support to allow them to continue to collect unemployment while connecting them with training for other jobs. It also says workers who are infected should be provided access to housing and other essentials that allow self-isolation without endangering others.

The charter calls for a regional Frontline Workers Rights Commission that would focus on employees’ needs as the pandemic continues.

The charter also says frontline workers should receive hazard pay, which was a sticking point in the early days of the pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, City Manager Tarron Richardson ruled that emergency workers would not receive hazard pay because the city remained open for business with employees working from home. The pay is usually granted to emergency responders who are working during natural disasters or other events that physically prevent most from getting to work.

Richardson has said that the decision helped ensure workers would still be paid during the pandemic.

The council acknowledged that the city isn’t meeting all the measures proposed in the charter, but lauded the goals.

“Based on what I know, in all of these areas we’ve got work to do,” said Mayor Nikuyah Walker. “I think everything on here is definitely something that we should strive for, but internally we have some work to do here.”

The council voted to support the Frontline Workers Rights Commission and will discuss the charter again at its Aug. 3 meeting. City staff will provide a report on what practices are being met and what areas are lacking.

“The fact that we aren’t meeting all the goals is even more reason to sign on and have that conversation,” Councilor Michael Payne said.

Walker said that funding could be an issue, but the city should be able to convey that message to its employees.

“If it’s just saying that we can’t do this without state and federal support, we should at least be willing to have that conversation and state it publicly,” she said.

The charter also will be presented to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

“This has to be a collaborative effort,” said Don Gathers, who was part of the planning process. “I think it sends a powerful message to all those employees who are directly affected.”

In other business, the council approved allocation of $2.3 million to area nonprofits from the Vibrant Community Fund.

The city has been revising the process it uses to contribute to nonprofits, formerly called the Agency Budget Review Team, since 2018. This year, applications were scored through a funding matrix focusing on the services provided and the quality of applications.

Earlier this year, the council decided to fund certain programs at different levels based on where they fell within the scoring matrix. None of the applications would receive total funding.

A majority of the money will go to 22 programs funded at 90% of their request for $1.37 million. Eleven projects were funded at 50% for $277,340 and 11 projects were funded at 60% for $410,100. Eleven arts and culture programs will receive 75% of their request for a total of $118,779.

The largest sum is going to the Child Health Partnership, which will receive $310,847 for its Home Visiting Collaborative. Other six-figure recipients are Offender Aid and Restoration, with $293,392; Shelter for Help in Emergency, at $202,500; Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, with $130,500; and Piedmont Housing Alliance, at $128,201.


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