Senate Democratic leader wants alternative plan to force Costco strikes by workers

Senate Democrats proposed on Tuesday one of the changes to the $14.6 billion coronavirus aid the Senate is expected to pass this week, as it struggles to pass a bipartisan agreement with drugstore chains Costco Inc and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc for their strikes.

“The Senate is open to working with others and comprehensive negotiations on a successful coronavirus relief package,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told a news conference.

The Democrat’s proposal comes a day after Costco announced it would go on strike over advances made in worker safety at two U.S. drugstore chains – Costco and Walgreens – in a bitter dispute over pay and unsafe staffing levels.

The strikes began in earnest a few weeks ago, following the mandatory wearing of masks on the job and the expiration of a voluntary agreement requiring employees to work in shifts that are less than 40 hours.

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Walgreens and Costco announced in January the closure of more than 23,000 stores in 38 states.

The strikes affect about 10,000 American workers, or 3-5% of the workforce in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. The hardest hit stores are located in the states of California, Illinois, New York, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, Democratic sources said.

The latest proposal by Senate Democrats, which would install new paychecks for non-members who are on holiday and federal contract, would add a $20 to the minimum hourly earnings for employees, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said.

First, the Senate would need to pass legislation that extended existing legislation, $15.4 trillion in a three-month session. If that failed, it could come a little closer to $20 billion, Schumer suggested.

If that legislation bounced back and Senate Republicans hesitated to bring to the floor, Schumer said it would be time for “pause” while the three-month window for Hershey, New Jersey, to avert its first major labor dispute expires.

“It’s time for a pause,” Schumer said.

A marathon reached with Walgreens agreed to raise wages for both staff and contractors by $15 an hour as part of other concessions agreed with lawmakers­. They are aiming for $1.50 per hour, Schumer said. Walgreens said it was still looking for an increase.