Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

How Americans Can Help the Frontline Workers Battling COVID-19

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Tom-Conway_Headshot-150x150.jpg

Chad Longpre Shepersky repeatedly took COVID-19 tests—and waited on pins and needles for results each time—during a coronavirus outbreak at Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Longpre Shepersky, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), never contracted the virus. But he watched in agony as dozens of his patients and coworkers fell ill and fought for their lives.

As a weary nation enters the holiday season, Americans have an opportunity to help health care workers like Longpre Shepersky and start bringing the raging pandemic under control.

Consistently wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions will slow COVID-19’s spread and provide much-needed relief to the frontline workers battling burnout as well as the virus.

“Everyone should do their part,” insisted Longpre Shepersky, financial secretary and steward for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9349, which represents workers at Guardian Angels. “Just the other day, I witnessed people in Walmart not wearing masks or following 6-foot distancing. Too many people aren’t doing what they can to fight the virus.”

As infection rates soar to their highest levels nationwide, 10 months into the pandemic, it continues to take a disproportionately deadly toll on frail, vulnerable nursing home residents and the people who care for them.

So many residents and workers at Guardian Angels contracted the virus that the Minnesota National Guard sent a five-person medical team in October to help keep the 90-bed facility operating. Even then, as he worried about his own safety and mourned the deaths of several patients, Longpre Shepersky logged grueling amounts of overtime to fill in for ill colleagues.

“It got to the point where you dreaded going to work because you didn’t know what the day was going to bring,” recalled Longpre Shepersky, a CNA for 21 years who considers his coworkers and patients a second family. “But there was no one else there to do it. I just pulled up my big boy pants and went in to work and got through the day.”

Many nursing home workers endured staffing shortages at their facilities long before the pandemic. Because of low Medicaid payments for patient care, among other reasons, facilities paid low wages, skimped on staff or battled chronic turnover.

When COVID-19 struck, turnover and staff sicknesses compounded the chronic understaffing.

Now, nursing home workers struggle to stay physically and psychologically healthy while putting in extra shifts to ensure residents receive the highest quality care around-the-clock. Besides longer hours, many also took on additional responsibilities, such as serving as surrogate family members to residents cut off from visitors during facility lockdowns.

These everyday heroes feel stretched to the breaking point. Many nursing home workers and other health care professionals report unprecedented levels of burnout and other mental health concerns as they worry not only about their own safety but the fate of their patients and the possibility of bringing the virus home to their own family members.

“I try to go in with a positive mindset,” explained Shirley Richardson, unit president for USW Local 7898, which represents workers at the 220-bed Veterans’ Victory House in Walterboro, South Carolina. “The main object is being safe. I try to stay focused. I don’t let little things get to me.”

“It’s going to get better,” she reminds coworkers who’ve endured about two dozen cases of COVID-19, including the deaths of several patients and a nurse, at their facility. “This can’t go on forever. We just have to work through it.”

The pandemic highlighted the essential work that nursing home staff members perform—and the necessity of treating them as essential workers from now on.

That will require fixing the nation’s health care system—even if that means allocating additional tax dollars—so that nursing homes receive adequate payment for their services. Then the facilities can hire and retain adequate numbers of workers—and provide hazard pay and paid sick leave to ensure staffing remains at high levels during emergencies.

“It’s just the staffing that’s been the worst part of this year,” explained Chris Sova, unit president for USW Local 15301-1, which represents nurses at Bay County Medical Care Facility in Essexville, Michigan.

“I feel like a zombie, almost. I honestly don’t know how we do it anymore,” marveled Sova, a third-generation nursing home worker, who described his routine some weeks as, “Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Wake up. Go to work.”

It infuriates Sova to know that while he and his coworkers put their lives on the line every day, some Americans refuse to take simple steps to slow the virus’ spread.

Across the country, some people fail to wear masks even as infection rates in their own communities skyrocket and strain the capacity of local hospitals.

So far, at least 259,000 Americans died of COVID-19, more than 65,000 of them in nursing homes. Universal mask-wearing, according to one new study, could prevent 130,000 more deaths in the U.S. in coming months.

“People wear seatbelts, but they have a big thing about face masks?” Sova fumed.

Longpre Shepersky faces the upcoming holidays with trepidation, realizing that the family gatherings and parties Americans long for so earnestly this year also present additional opportunities for spreading the virus.

The residents at Guardian Angels wear masks whenever they leave their rooms, and because of the risk of another outbreak, they also could face limits on visitors this holiday season.

If they can make sacrifices to help contain the virus, other Americans can as well.

“Everyone definitely has to take this seriously,” Longpre Shepersky said.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute on November 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


Share this post

This pandemic-year Thanksgiving, think hard about the system that has workers on the job today

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Laura-Clawson-1.jpg

Every Thanksgiving, people across the United States gather with their family and friends to celebrate and eat and be with their loved ones. And at the same time, people across the United States are at work—maybe having rescheduled their holiday meal around their work and maybe having given up the celebration entirely. 

Well, this year is different. Fewer people will be gathered in big family groups. And the people who are working are doing so in radically different, more stressful, more dangerous circumstances. That’s true of the healthcare workers and first responders standing ready to respond to emergencies every hour of every day of the year. More than 1,000 healthcare workers have died of COVID-19, and no one is keeping a reliable count of how many have gotten sick, a fact that hangs over these workers every day.

The grocery workers ringing up the people scrambling to get that one forgotten ingredient for the big meal now do their work at risk to their health, on Thanksgiving and every other day. They’re essential workers who are too often treated as disposable, and paid too little to pay their bills. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union represents 1.3 million workers in grocery stores, other retail stores, meat packing and processing, and more. As of early September, at least 238 of its frontline members had died of COVID-19, with 29,000 having been infected or exposed to the virus. Obviously, UFCW members are just a small fraction of the grocery workers nationwide. 

Then there are the workers at the retail chains that try to milk that Black Friday business for every penny they can get by opening on Thanksgiving. Because people shouldn’t have to wait until Friday morning for those sweet sweet doorbuster deals. There’s absolutely no reason those workers should be on the job on Thanksgiving, not even a shred of a reason—besides capitalist greed.

If you’re sitting down to a nice Thanksgiving meal—even a much more solitary one than you had hoped for, even if back in April you were looking ahead to the holidays when the pandemic would surely be behind us—take a moment to think about these workers and about the organization of our society that forces so many of them to be on the job for such flimsy or nonexistent reasons. 

Whatever Thanksgiving means to you, it shouldn’t be a symbol of the race to the bottom, especially during a pandemic that means people in the workplace are very often people whose health is at risk. In a normal year, Thanksgiving should be time to recommit yourself to the fight for everyone to get a (paid) holiday sometimes, for everyone to have the leisure and the budget to relax and celebrate and eat well. In this coronavirus year, it should be a time to recommit yourself to the fight for the government to pay people to stay home if they don’t absolutely need to be at work, to keep people housed and fed and healthy while we wait for a safe and effective vaccine.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 26, 2020 Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


Share this post

‘We went from being essential to being sacrificial, all for the sake of the bottom line’

Share this post

How much rage have you got left after four years of Donald Trump and nine months of coronavirus pandemic? Please set aside some to direct at the United States’ largest retail companies for their treatment of their workers.

A Brookings Institution report shows how 13 of the nation’s 20 largest retail chains, with a combined six million employees, have stiffed their workers through the pandemic. Well, 10 of the 13 did. Three—Target, Home Depot, and Best Buy—were comparatively generous, with bigger pay increases to workers than other companies and relative to their own profit increases in the time of COVID-19. But 10 companies in the analysis—Walmart, Amazon*, Kroger, Costco*, Walgreens, CVS, Lowe’s, Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize (the Dutch-Belgian grocery company that owns Giant), and Dollar General—have not boosted worker pay as much as their profits have risen. 

The extra amount the average worker at these companies has been paid through the pandemic ranges from $4,414 at Best Buy, a 28% increase, down to just $300, or just 2%, at Walgreens and CVS. For many of the companies, hazard pay of $2 an hour early on has been yanked from workers, in some cases replaced by sporadic bonuses—because bonuses feel like a gift, whereas hourly pay becomes harder to take away after a while. 

“The end of hazard pay also undermined racial, ethnic, and gender equity,” the Brookings report, authored by Molly Kinder, Laura Stateler, and Julia Du, notes. “Women and workers of color are overrepresented among the retail frontline workforce. Women make up a significantly larger share of the frontline workforce in general retail stores and at companies such as Target and Walmart than they do in the workforce overall. Amazon and Walmart employ well above-average shares of Black workers (27% and 21%, respectively) compared to the national figure of 12%.”

Meanwhile, of these companies, only Walgreens became less profitable. Others saw profits soar—Amazon’s by 53%, Walmart’s by 45%, Kroger by 90%, Dollar General by 77%. They just didn’t pass that along to the workers who made it possible. Instead, five of them—Walmart, Ahold Delhaize, Kroger, Lowe’s, and Dollar General—poured hundreds of millions of dollars into stock buybacks.

”All of a sudden, we went from being essential to being sacrificial, all for the sake of the bottom line. Now you’re telling us that this thing is still out here, people are still dying, and you want to do away with hazard pay and give a one-time bonus? It’s a bunch of B.S., to be honest. It is still a pandemic, the last time I checked. There is a still a hazard out there,” Giant Food worker Jeffrey Reid told Brookings.

Just as workers went uncompensated for the risks they took, in many cases they were actively put at risk in ways higher-paid workers in the same companies were not. Amazon brags about its on-site testing and other safety measures, but workers aren’t so sure.

“The fact that [Amazon executives] decided to close the Seattle building [and allow headquarters staff to work remotely] until next year while keeping thousands of us jam-packed in a small warehouse is more than a little upsetting,” Amazon Fresh warehouse worker Courtenay Brown told reporters on a call.

The bottom line is this, according to the report: “Amazon and Walmart could have quadrupled the hazard pay they gave their frontline workers and still earned more profit than the previous year.” They didn’t.

* Costco and Amazon did have $15 per hour minimum pay prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 25, 2020 Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


Share this post

As Covid Surges, Doctors Are Striking Against “Retail Health”

Share this post

We’re back with Sea­son Four of Work­ing Peo­ple! In this urgent episode, we talk with Dr. Amir Atabey­gi, a physi­cian at Mul­ti­Care Indi­go Urgent Care in Thurston Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton. On Novem­ber 23, amid a ter­ri­fy­ing surge in COVID-19 cas­es around the coun­try, Dr. Atabey­gi joins his fel­low physi­cians, physi­cian assis­tants, and advanced reg­is­tered nurse prac­ti­tion­ers on the pick­et line as they strike for the basic safe­ty mea­sures their employ­er refus­es to pro­vide. We talk to Dr. Atabey­gi about what he and his cowork­ers face on the job, the rise of ?“retail health” com­pa­nies like Mul­ti­Care Health Sys­tems, and the grow­ing labor con­scious­ness of tra­di­tion­al­ly non-union­ized health­care workers.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on November 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, “a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


Share this post

Companies are getting creative to pay workers as little as they can get away with in the pandemic

Share this post

Unemployment remains high, Republicans allowed expanded unemployment benefits to expire, and retail companies are using that desperation to get vulnerable people to risk their health or their lives for low, low wages. Early on in the pandemic, many retail chains paid their workers some amount of hazard pay. It was usually an inadequate amount and often wasn’t backed up by a commitment to safety, but it was something.

Well, no more. Most of the companies that offered hazard pay back in the spring have phased it out, often replacing it with bonuses, so workers aren’t tempted to think of it as part of their hourly pay and fight to keep it. And, The New York Times reports, many of those same companies have spent far more buying back stock to benefit their shareholders even as they strategize carefully to avoid paying their workers a penny more than they have to. All while coronavirus rates are again surging.

Kroger initially gave workers $2 an hour in hazard pay, then took it away even though the pandemic didn’t go away. Workers have protested, but so far the company’s big generous offer is fuel discounts and a $100 store credit for “holiday appreciation.” 

According to its recent quarterly report, Lowe’s workers have gotten $800 million in pandemic extras—which sounds like a fair bit of money until you read that the company spent $1 billion on buybacks and dividends in the third quarter and plans to spend another $3 billion in the fourth quarter.

Dollar General says it will add $100 million in extra money for workers to the $73 million it’s already paid out. It’s planning $2 billion in stock buybacks on top of $602 million it’s already spent. Dollar General also initially refused to participate in a Vermont program that paid workers extra money funneled through their employers.

This was literally free money for the underpaid workers of Dollar General, but the company refused, claiming it wanted to leave the money for smaller businesses. Except the money was for workers, and Dollar General workers need the money just as much as workers at your local corner store. Yes, Dollar General should have paid that money itself to its own workers, but saying “we won’t pay you that $2,000 and we won’t let anyone else do it either” is grotesque.

Walmart, too, initially refused to apply for the money for its workers, citing the same “give it to small businesses” reason. Walmart, too, could damn well afford to pay its workers that money. Instead, full-time Walmart workers “have received a series of three cash payments of up to $300 each,” the Times reports.

“Imagine being told by your manager that corporate won’t fill out the paperwork that could get you $2,000,” said Tim Ashe, president of the Vermont Senate. Both Walmart and Dollar General say they will now apply for the program.

The U.S. has learned a little bit about how much we rely on low-paid workers in grocery stores and other retail outlets, finding them to be essential workers just like healthcare workers. Yet these workers are still brutally underpaid and underprotected in the pandemic. Then again, so are many healthcare workers. And employers have made it clear: They will not give workers fair wages of their own accord. The only way for workers to get what they deserve is to build power and make demands.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


Share this post

Millions of U.S Workers for Walmart, McDonald’s and Other Corporate Giants Rely on Food Stamps and Medicaid

Share this post

Mil­lions of full-time, adult work­ers in the Unit­ed States?—?many of them employed by Wal­mart, McDonald’s and oth­er high­ly prof­itable cor­po­ra­tions?—?are paid wages so low they’re forced to rely on pub­lic assis­tance to make ends meet. 

That is the key find­ing of a new­ly released report by the non­par­ti­san Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office (GAO). Com­mis­sioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.), the report ana­lyzed data from 15 agen­cies admin­is­ter­ing Med­ic­aid and the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP, or ?“food stamps”) across 11 dif­fer­ent states. 

For all 15 agen­cies, Wal­mart was in the top four employ­ers of Med­ic­aid enrollees and SNAP ben­e­fi­cia­ries, while McDonald’s was in the top five for 13 of the 15 agencies.

Oth­er major retail­ers and fast-food com­pa­nies were found to be among the most com­mon employ­ers of work­ers receiv­ing Med­ic­aid and SNAP, includ­ing Dol­lar Tree, Dol­lar Gen­er­al, Tar­get, Ama­zon, Burg­er King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal­greens and CVS. Rideshare ser­vice Uber?—?which recent­ly spent mil­lions of dol­lars suc­cess­ful­ly defeat­ing a Cal­i­for­nia law that would have made its dri­vers eli­gi­ble for basic work­er pro­tec­tions and ben­e­fits?—?was also ranked among the top 15 employ­ers of work­ers on pub­lic assistance.

“At a time when huge cor­po­ra­tions like Wal­mart and McDonald’s are mak­ing bil­lions in prof­its and giv­ing their CEOs tens of mil­lions of dol­lars a year, they’re rely­ing on cor­po­rate wel­fare from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment by pay­ing their work­ers star­va­tion wages,” Sanders said of the report. ?“That is moral­ly obscene.”

The new GAO report echoes the con­clu­sions of sim­i­lar stud­ies by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley Labor Cen­ter in 2013 and 2015, which found that U.S. tax­pay­ers are sub­si­diz­ing large cor­po­ra­tions to the tune of $153 bil­lion per year in the form of pub­lic assis­tance pro­grams to sup­port their low-wage employees.

“It is time for the own­ers of Wal­mart, McDonald’s and oth­er large cor­po­ra­tions to get off of wel­fare and pay their work­ers a liv­ing wage,” Sanders added.

The fed­er­al min­i­mum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. While a major­i­ty of states have raised their respec­tive min­i­mum wages above the fed­er­al floor in the past decade, 21 states have not. Thanks to union-dri­ven cam­paigns like the Fight for $15 and Unit­ed for Respect (for­mer­ly OUR Wal­mart), eight states and mul­ti­ple cities have enact­ed grad­ual increas­es to a $15-per-hour min­i­mum wage in recent years. And on Novem­ber 3, vot­ers in Flori­da over­whelm­ing­ly approved a mea­sure to raise their state’s hourly min­i­mum wage to $15 by 2026.

Last July, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-led House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a bill to increase the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour, but the leg­is­la­tion went nowhere in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate. Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden sup­ports a fed­er­al increase to $15, but whether or not such a bill can get to his desk in the near future like­ly depends on the out­come of Georgia’s Jan­u­ary 5 runoff elec­tions, which will decide which par­ty gains con­trol of the U.S. Senate.

In Geor­gia?—?where vot­ers will soon deter­mine the short-term fate of the $15 fed­er­al min­i­mum wage?—?the offi­cial state min­i­mum wage is a mere $5.15 an hour, with employ­ers only required to pay $7.25 because of the fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion passed over a decade ago. Accord­ing to the new GAO report, over 143,000 work­ing adults in Geor­gia depend on SNAP ben­e­fits and over 208,000 rely on Medicaid. 

Besides rais­ing the nation­al min­i­mum wage, the GAO’s find­ings also indi­cate the need for fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion allow­ing ser­vice sec­tor work­ers the right to union­ize with­out employ­er inter­fer­ence. After all, the ral­ly­ing cry of fast-food and retail work­ers in recent years has been “$15 and a union.” Because they are orga­nized and can bar­gain with their employ­ers, union work­ers on aver­age earn high­er wages and have greater ben­e­fits than their nonunion counterparts. 

In Feb­ru­ary, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the Pro­tect­ing the Right to Orga­nize (PRO) Act, which would allow work­ers to win union recog­ni­tion through ?“card check” and remove var­i­ous cor­po­rate-friend­ly legal bar­ri­ers to union­iza­tion. But as with the $15 min­i­mum wage bill passed last year, the PRO Act died in the GOP-dom­i­nat­ed Senate.

Impor­tant­ly, the data used in the new GAO report was gath­ered in Feb­ru­ary, before the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic began. Since then, with tens of mil­lions of jobs lost, the already mea­ger social safe­ty net has been stretched to the break­ing point. The tem­po­rary and lim­it­ed eco­nom­ic relief pro­vid­ed by the fed­er­al CARES Act in late March has long since dried up, with no new relief pack­age in sight. 

Mean­while, food inse­cu­ri­ty has more than dou­bled from 8.5 per­cent of all U.S. house­holds before the pan­dem­ic to 23 per­cent, and at least 8 mil­lion more Amer­i­cans have fall­en into pover­ty since May. More than 12 mil­lion U.S. work­ers and their fam­i­ly mem­bers have lost their employ­er-spon­sored health insur­ance in the midst of the pan­dem­ic, rein­forc­ing wide­spread calls to enact a sin­gle-pay­er, Medicare for All health­care system.

“No one in this coun­try should live in pover­ty. No one should go hun­gry. No one should be unable to get the med­ical care they need,” Sanders said. ?“It is long past time to increase the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage from a star­va­tion wage of $7.25 an hour to $15, and guar­an­tee health care to all Amer­i­cans as a human right.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @JeffSchuhrke.


Share this post

Think about who doesn’t get a Thanksgiving, and who’s to blame, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

We’re heading into Thanksgiving week, and we’re hearing a lot of discussion of how people are—or aren’t—staying safe, from solitary living to plans for large gatherings and everything in between. We also need to be talking about how this holiday season kicks off after 35 straight weeks of a million or more people applying for unemployment insurance, and with Republicans still blocking the aid working people need in the COVID-19 economy.

Coronavirus rates are rising and it’s more important than ever for people to stay home as much as they can. But that would mean paying them so they could afford to do so, rather than being driven out to scrounge for whatever work they can find, however unsafe it may be. Congress won’t do that, and major companies are showing how little they value their workers. So on Thanksgiving, think about the people who can’t have a holiday not just because they can’t see family and friends, but because they are struggling to buy food and stay housed. And, just as important, think about why that is and who’s to blame.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


Share this post

What is the Broken Rung?

Share this post

The corporate ladder is a popularized metaphor in the workforce. The ability to progress up the chain of command at a company to secure a prosperous future through hard work. However, what’s lesser-known, but more important, is that this staple corporate ladder has a broken rung.

The very first step up from entry-level fragments parity in the workplace. According to McKinsey’s report on Women in the Workplace, it found that women held only 38% of entry-level managerial positions while men held 62% in 2019.

The disparities in job mobility are not just a pattern within McKinsey’s report, but for each of the six years McKinsey has released the report, it’s a trend that has remained. Women are less likely to get promoted from entry-level positions. This is the broken rung that is stifling so many young women’s careers.

So, how can we hurdle over this broken rung? The answer doesn’t lie in corporate resolution. Companies move at a turtle-pace when implementing social change, instead, it’s up to us as women to empower ourselves to overcome this gender barrier and advance beyond this bias.

There are a few ways we can do this, the first of which is finding a mentor. Having a mentor increased your odds of getting a promotion by five times. It’s essential to have an advocate when it comes time to make a decision about promotions and likely that person will be your mentor. So, get your networking cap on and start sending those well-polished introductions!

Along with finding a mentor, making continuous learning a hallmark of your professional life will make you stand out against other candidates. With a rising number of women attending business school, you can get a degree online or simply read an industry book. Find whatever method works best for you to learn something new, but make it a priority as continuous learning will set you apart.

Along with connecting and learning, make yourself visible at your company. It’s easy to mouse in the corner during your first few months at a company, but you actually want to do the opposite. Reach out to senior-level employees, host happy hours, send an interesting article to the CEO, publish LinkedIn content on your company, or find another creative way to connect with everyone in your company. This not only will make you more comfortable by knowing the people you work with but when people know you and the work you do, they’ll be able to attest you’re the best person for a promotion when the time comes.

Lastly, but most importantly, always advocate for yourself. This means that if you see bias in the workplace call it out. If you get passed up for a promotion you know you deserve, take it up with your manager. As women, especially young women in the workplace, it’s easy to accept the fate decision-makers hand to us. However, when that fate is tainted with bias we cannot just accept it, we need to question the reasoning and unearth any wrongful bias.

While it’s ideal to think that the corporate ladder is an equal climb for every member who attempts it, that’s not the case. For women, it’s especially hard to get over that first, broken rung because of gender bias. However, with an empowered attitude, a firmness in self-worth, and supportive network women can overcome this broken rung.

About the Author: Lily Crager is a content market specialist writing for GreatBusinessSchools a site that gives business students a portal that tells them everything they need to know before they commit to a business education.


Share this post

Biden’s big challenge: A growing racial wealth gap

Share this post

When he takes office on Jan. 20, Joe Biden will face a gap between Black and white wealth that has grown into a yawning chasm during the past 10 months.

The pandemic has shuttered tens of thousands of businesses and left millions out of work. And communities of color have borne the brunt of the economic devastation, particularly Black-owned businesses that have failed at a far greater rate during the pandemic than white-owned businesses. Many that remain may not survive the current pandemic wave without significant help from the federal government before effective vaccines finally arrive.

Biden’s presidency may rise or fall on his ability to execute policies — possibly with a GOP majority in the Senate — that address systemic economic inequality, which often leaves Black families and businesses far more vulnerable to economic shocks. Black families have faced a well-documented pattern of financial discrimination that has stymied their ability to accumulate wealth at the same rate as white families, forcing them to live in neighborhoods with fewer resources. For example, they are denied loans at much higher rates than white families with similar credit profiles — and face higher interest rates when they do qualify.

Biden won the White House with enormous help from African American voters, which he acknowledged in his victory speech: “The African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”

Now, his supporters say, he must deliver.

“Had it not been for Black people it would have been difficult for [Biden] to win,” said Ron Busby, president, CEO and founder of the U.S. Black Chambers. Busby said the pandemic exposed inequalities that have long existed: Black people were more likely to get the virus and die from it, more likely to be forced to go into work and less likely to be eligible for federal stimulus programs designed to prop up the economy.

“We’ve got to fix that and hold this administration accountable so we can provide opportunities for our own,” he said.

People close to the Biden transition team say targeting the higher rate of Black-owned business failures — and the racial wealth gap more broadly — will be a central focus of the new administration. Early measures to target the problem will likely include language in any new stimulus package aimed at making sure money from the Paycheck Protection Program, which is focused on aiding small businesses, goes to firms that may not have gotten access to previous funds, especially minority-owned businesses.

“The administration really needs to think creatively to make sure aid gets to some of these small businesses that have been hit so hard,” one person close to the transition said on condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. “We can’t leave them behind. It’s got to be better than what happened before.”

Despite Biden’s intentions, he’ll face significant roadblocks, including a divided Congress, a range of pressing priorities and a problem that has deep historical roots. New census data out this week showed white households with median wealth of $171,000 compared with $25,000 for Hispanic households and $9,567 for Black households in 2017. That gap has only widened among people with college education: Families headed by a college-educated Black person saw their wealth decline by nearly half compared with families headed by a college-educated white person between 1989 and 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

“The Biden administration can certainly begin to do this work and begin to support policies that will eliminate racism and discrimination in our economy,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.) who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. Waters said that more banks and other financial institutions have been receptive to addressing the wealth gap and ending lending discrimination since George Floyd’s death in May. “But it certainly is not something that in a few months or a few years, all of a sudden, he’s going to be able to wipe away all the instances and ways by which inequality has grown and developed.”

Many federal government programs created in the stimulus package are set to expire at the end of the year including an eviction moratorium, enhanced unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program. Black business owners and worker groups say they were largely shut out of the $2 trillion CARES Act.

From April to June of this year, 13 percent of jobless Black workers received unemployment benefits, compared with 22 percent for Hispanic workers and 24 percent for white workers, according to analysis from Nyanya Browne and William Spriggs at Howard University. (Their analysis was based on survey data from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.)

Spriggs, also chief economist at the AFL-CIO, said Black people are more likely to work in service industry jobs not covered by unemployment assistance programs and live in Southern states that were slow to roll out benefits. He said that to address the imbalance Congress and the new administration would have to redesign unemployment insurance programs instead of just renewing the current program when it lapses at the end of this year.

“We are going to have a long period of a very disrupted labor market,” Spriggs said. “They have to think, ‘Am I just going to patch this up? Or do I conceive of something different.’” If all they do is put it back together, Spriggs said, they’ll just end up replicating existing inequities.

In addition PPP funds haven’t reached Black businesses owners, which have been especially hard hit because of pandemic related shutdowns and a drop in demand. Between February and April of this year, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses closed, compared with 17 percent of white businesses, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

That’s likely because Black-owned businesses often have thinner financial cushions. According to Goldman Sachs, 43 percent of Black-owned businesses expect cash reserves to be gone by the end of this year without more stimulus from Washington. Overall, that number is 30 percent.

But the problem with using PPP is that the program relies on banks as intermediaries to distribute capital. And Black-owned businesses often don’t have relationships with banks participating in the program.

“There are things implicit in PPP that are detrimental to Black businesses,” said Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification, and Political Economy at The New School. “Using banks as an intermediary won’t help if you don’t have a strong relationship with a commercial bank. It’s a justice issue. Black people should have the same access to capital as white people.”

Hamilton suggested the administration focus on direct grants to heavily impacted minority-owned businesses, either through new legislation or through the Small Business Administration.

Breaking up big companies is another area progressive economists want the Biden administration to pursue. Outside of going after big tech giants the president didn’t like, the Trump administration did not prioritize legally targeting some of the nation’s largest and most dominant companies such as Amazon and Facebook. But those who study the racial wealth gap suggest that the concentration of growth in a smaller number of very large companies is a critical factor in driving inequality.

“For small businesses to thrive you need to have a robust antitrust agenda,” said Heather Boushey, president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “It’s a super important and under-recognized factor. There is lots of empirical evidence that these things are connected.”

The Biden administration can also take steps to address the wealth gap even if Congress doesn’t cooperate. One way to tackle it is through federal contracting. Federal officials could reverse a Trump administration policy of not sharing which firms get federal funds and reinstate an Obama administration policy of paying suppliers upfront for contracts.

John Rogers, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, said there should be more transparency around how federal funds are spent. The federal government should track contracts by race and category to ensure that Black-owned businesses are getting deals for professional services — and not just contracts forjanitorial or other low-margin industries. What’s more, Rogers said, the administration should use their bully pulpit to ensure private companies are doing the same.

When the state of Illinois mandated diversity in company boards, more Black executives benefited from new opportunities, Rogers said.

“A lot of companies had a Jackie Robinson moment,” he said. But even forcing companies to be transparent about who gets contracts and sits on boards can create more diversity.

“Then pressure builds to move into the 21st century,” Rogers said. “And do the right thing.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Renuka Rayasam covers Texas politics, policy and health care for POLITICO. Rayasam grew up outside of Atlanta, Ga. She studied political economy and German at the University of California, Berkeley and has a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.


Share this post

Katie Porter called for an investigation into PPP layoffs. Under Biden, that could actually happen

Share this post

Back in October, a group of Democratic House members wrote to the Small Business Administration asking for an investigation how an owner of dozens of hotels had spent Paycheck Protection Program funding while laying off many of the workers whose paychecks the program was supposed to protect. Now, the signs are good that President-elect Joe Biden is going to take exactly that kind of oversight seriously.  (Disclosure:Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)

recent report from Bloomberg Law notes that, back in April, as the Trump Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was saying it would do basically nothing to enforce the provisions of the CARES Act, former CFPB head Richard Cordray called for tougher enforcement—and Cordray is reportedly under consideration to lead the CFPB again. Cordray’s former deputy director, who should have succeeded him as acting director, is heading up the Biden transition efforts on the CFPB.

That all means that hotel owners—and others—who took money intended to protect jobs only to lay off tons of workers, could face more consequences than they had anticipated.

“Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses keep workers on payroll,” Rep. Katie Porter said in a statement at the time she joined with UNITE HERE Local 11, the hotel workers’ union, to call for an investigation into the hotel layoffs in her area. “Columbia Sussex received millions of taxpayer dollars, yet they continued to lay off workers in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. We need a full audit to see whether this taxpayer-funded program is actually helping the American people—not big corporations.”

In the letter to the SBA, Porter and her colleagues noted that ”Columbia Sussex affiliates borrowed enough money under the PPP to retain more than half its total workforce, but there are reports of Columbia Sussex hotels in California and Alaska operating at 10 percent of normal staffing.” What’s more, “we are concerned that Columbia Sussex may have double counted’ employees as working at multiple affiliates tied to the same hotels, potentially inflating the total value of PPP loans.”

This wouldn’t be the first case of shady dealings around PPP loans, whether it’s predatory lenders getting the funds while some of the businesses that needed help the most getting left out, or applicants lying about why they needed the money and how they qualified for loans. The Biden administration can’t go back in time and make things better last summer, but it should make it a priority to ensure that the PPP gets tough oversight and enforcement.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.