COVID-19 put existing disparities on stark display. The public health crisis hurt people of color the hardest in Nebraska and nationwide as workplaces refused to implement basic pandemic protections. We've also seen women pushed out of the workforce at alarming rates as they struggle to balance their childrens' education, care for a family member and work. It's an intersectional crisis, one with economic justice, gender justice and racial justice components. We need a comprehensive approach to dealing with it. Nebraska lawmakers can make progress in 2021.
ADDRESSING THE PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS
As public health officials work to get everyone a vaccine, we can't wait any longer for businesses to implement basic pandemic safeguards. Too many companies have failed to protect essential workers, such as those working in our meatpacking plants. State senators must prioritize basic protections, including workers' compensation measures, and ensure that paid leave is accessible for everyone. As many Nebraskans care for sick family members, paid leave could not be more important. Likewise, people should be eligible to claim unemployment if they leave a workplace to care for a family member.
State senators should also flatly reject efforts to create a liability shield for employers that aren't protecting their workers. The law is clear (LB139). Companies that are following basic, common-sense public health measures have nothing to fear, but those putting lives at risk should not get a free pass.
A LIVING WAGE & THE PAY GAP
Many Nebraskans were already struggling to get by before the pandemic. Nebraska's minimum wage of $9/hour does not reflect the cost of living. Like the pandemic, we know who is hurt the most. Nebraskans of color are far more likely to be living below the poverty line than white Nebraskans. State senators should approve a minimum wage increase, eventually indexed for inflation, and also pass a bill that would prohibit employees from requiring job applicants to report their wage history. The latter bill would be an important step toward erasing the pay gap. Despite having equal pay laws in Nebraska and on the federal level for decades, persistent disparities remain. That’s why we need to learn from the example of a diverse set of our sister states to update our laws to ensure they advance our commitment to equal pay.
WORKPLACES & PROGRAMS FOR ALL OF US
Natural hair discrimination is racial discrimination and it has no place in Nebraska. State senators must once again pass a ban on natural hair discrimination and be prepared to override Gov. Ricketts' veto. It's also past time to make sure our workplaces and our support programs reflect common-sense, empathetic values. We strongly support a change that would make unemployment benefits available to DACA workers and an expansion of the Bridge to Independence program for undocumented youth.
In 2020, Nebraska added a Commission on African American Affairs, mirroring similar commissions for representing the needs and priorities of Native American Nebraskans and Latinx Nebraskans. In 2021, state senators should move forward on creating a Commission on Asian American Affairs. We also support proposals to add racial impact statements to bills, a commonsense tool for evaluating legislation, and a bill that would create El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Malcolm X Day. Malcolm X, who was born in Omaha, is one of the best known figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Recognizing his legacy would recognize the importance of the movement and the need for continued action addressing systemic racism in our communities.
About this series
2021 holds the promise for meaningful change. At the start of it all is Nebraska's long 90-day legislative session. As our state senators face key issues, we need them to make the right choices. Your advocacy can help. We analyzed the hundreds of new bills that have been introduced and sorted civil rights priorities into eight categories. We call it the ACLU 8. These lists are not exhaustive and only reflect bills we've identified as top priorities or top threats. We encourage you to find your senator and tell them your priorities.