Reports across the country of retail workers being physically attacked for enforcing safety rules, like the wearing of face masks and social distancing, prompted Illinois lawmakers to take action. A measure was passed getting tougher on those who commit such acts.
Both the house and senate agreed to enhanced penalties – over questions if the plan would actually be a deterrent and concerns the change could be used to target minorities.
Rep. Mary Flowers (D, Chicago) was among those opposed.
“If we want to help the front-liners, let’s give them and their families some protection, some health care and a pay increase,” she said.
But lawmakers, themselves wearing face masks and taking other precautions during their special session, felt the need to send a message.
Democratic Representative Kelly Cassidy of Chicago said she understood the critics’ argument, but said it’s about protecting employees.
“What it does do is let these front line workers who face a once in a lifetime experience and putting their lives on the line certainty that we have their back,” she said.
Attacking a retail worker would be considered aggravated battery, which ranges from a class 3 up to a Class X felony depending on circumstances. The penalty would be in effect for up to six months after a public health emergency ends.
Rep. Jay Hoffman (D, Collinsville) said lawmakers showed support for those still working through pandemic.
“I think it’s going to protect front line workers by making sure we are respecting them and the job they’re having to do,” Hoffman said.
The measure would also extend disability pay for public employees whose recovery is hindered by COVID-19.
Another portion of bill would assure employees of a horse track that receives a state license for video gambling be informed about the ability to form a union. The track workers would be given rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
The legislation is awaiting the governor's signature.