Bill seeks parity between care for mental, physical ailments (copy)

State Sen. Julian Cyr, right, joined a group of health care workers in Boston on Thursday rallying in support of a onetime bonus of up to $3,000 for those who were on the front line of efforts to treat COVID-19 patients. 

Health care workers who were on the front line of efforts to treat COVID-19 patients should receive a share of the $5.3 billion in federal aid coming to Massachusetts in the form of retroactive premium pay, participants at a rally outside the Statehouse said this week.

The health care workers union 1199SEIU wants direct care workers to receive one-time bonuses of between $1,000 to $3,000 "based on the number of hours worked in direct contact with the health crisis." The union says the proposal would cost about $500 million.

Federal guidance governing the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds includes premium pay for essential workers, a group that includes 200,000 hospital workers, 40,000 nursing home workers, 20,000 community health center workers, and 100,000 home care workers in Massachusetts, the union said.

"The last 15 months has been devastating as we've battled this virus. The emotional toll has been heartbreaking too, having to stand-in for families who could not say goodbye to their loved ones battling COVID," Veisha Howell, a registered nurse from Boston Medical Center, said in a statement. "Premium pay for health care workers is how we can recognize and affirm the work that you have done over the last 15 months," Sen. Julian Cyr told union members at the State House front steps. "It's how we can say 'thank you.'"

As 1199SEIU members paraded across Beacon Street from Boston Common accompanied by a small musical band, they were joined by lawmakers including Cyr, Sen. Diana DiZoglio, Reps. Jim O'Day, Jake Oliveira, Steve Owens, and Kip Diggs, and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu. It was a return to the type of activist rallies that were commonplace before the pandemic, although union members were not able to enter the building — which remains closed to the public — to lobby legislative offices.

"Welcome back to the State House. We can't get in, but I hope they can hear us," said 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Tim Foley, as dozens of union members cheered toward the capitol building.