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New York City transit union wins line-of-duty death benefits for workers killed by COVID-19

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Transport Workers Union members who die of COVID-19 while working for New York City’s  Metropolitan Transportation Authority will get a $500,000 death benefit, the union and the MTA announced Tuesday. Surviving spouses and children under 26 years old will also get three years of health coverage.

The COVID-19 death toll among New York City transit workers keeps rising. Last week it was 41. Now it’s at least 59. The workers’ survivors and the union had pushed for the deaths to be recognized as having happened on the job, rather than from natural causes, which triggers the higher benefit.

The MTA was holding out for the federal government to pay the line-of-duty death benefits, but the union was not interested in waiting. Workers are already angry they weren’t given masks and other protective equipment earlier in the outbreak—some were even reprimanded for wearing their own masks.

“New York wouldn’t have a fighting chance against this virus if transit workers weren’t getting the blue collar heroes of this pandemic—nurses, paramedics, food service workers—to the front lines of the battle  all across the metropolitan region,” TWU president John Samuelsen said in a statement. “This COVID-19 death benefit is a recognition of the incredible contributions and sacrifices our workforce has made.”

Bus drivers in some parts of the city who are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union haven’t yet won this benefit, though they’re working on it.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 14, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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McDonald’s Workers Charge Grotesque Sexual Harassment in New $500 Million Lawsuit

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Two women who worked for McDonald’s in Florida, backed by the Fight For 15 and the Time’s Up legal fund, have filed a new class action lawsuit against the company, alleging a widespread pattern of sexual harassment at stores throughout the state. They are seeking $500 million in damages, and a fundamental change in the way McDonald’s handles sexual harassment at thousands of locations across America.

The suit is crafted to attack a legal shield that McDonald’s uses to insulate itself from labor violations. The company, like many in the fast food industry, has long held that it is not responsible for violations that take place in stores owned by franchisees—a powerful tool for protecting the corporation, since more than nine in ten McDonald’s are franchises. (The legal definition of this “joint employer” standard has been a key struggle for the Fight For 15, which saw a more labor-friendly definition during the Obama administration rolled back under President Trump.) Lawyers in this suit are targeting more than 100 McDonald’s stores in Florida directly owned by the parent company, seeking to force changes that could then spread to corporate and franchise-owned stores alike. The new lawsuit is an escalation of a campaign against sexual harassment at McDonald’s that the Fight For 15 has been waging since 2018, which has included dozens of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

On top of the half-billion dollars in damages, the suit asks for additional punitive damages, as well as “effective worker-centered anti-harassment policies and procedures and training” for both lower and upper-level McDonald’s managers.

The two plaintiffs in the suit, Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick, both worked at a corporate-owned McDonald’s in Sanford, Florida. Both say they suffered sexual harassment from coworkers and employees alike over a period of several years, and that their complaints were ignored by managers. Fairley, speaking via videoconference, said that one coworker asked her “how much it would cost to have sex with my daughter,” when her daughter was one year old. She said that her hours were cut after she complained. “Try raising a toddler on a paycheck of $67 a week,” Fairley said, as her daughter could be heard crying in the background. 

Reddick, who was earning just over $10 an hour, says that a male coworker harassed her verbally, rubbed his groin against her, showed her a picture of his penis on his cell phone, and even followed her into the bathroom at the store while she was cleaning it, terrifying her. She says that managers retaliated against her when she complained. “Instead of helping me, they stopped scheduling me for shifts,” she said. “And then they fired me.” 

Gillian Thomas, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who is working on the plaintiffs’ case, said that while the lawsuit’s formal scope extends only to corporate-owned stores in Florida, the hope is that it can have a broader effect on sexual harassment throughout the entire company. “McDonald’s has the power to change practices everywhere,” Thomas said. “Our position is it should be doing vastly more to ensure that the employees in those franchises that earn billions of dollars for the corporation” are protected. 

That position is of a piece with what the Fight For 15 has long maintained: McDonald’s, in reality, exercises tight control over all aspects of its franchises, from the food to the menu to the store appearance, so the argument that it is not responsible for labor violations because it does not control the operations of its franchisees is little more than a convenient legal fiction. 

In a statement, McDonald’s said that “The plaintiffs’ allegations of harassment and retaliation were investigated as soon as they were brought to our attention, and we will likewise investigate the new allegations that they have raised in their complaint.” The company also said it has implemented “Safe and Respectful Workplace Training in 100% of our corporate-owned restaurants and encourages our franchisees to do the same.” (The fact that the company purports to be unable to impose training requirements on its franchised stores points to the very “joint employer” problem that the Fight For 15 is up against.) 

Allynn Umel, an organizing director with Fight For 15, said that McDonald’s failure to effectively police sexual harassment has the same root cause as the complaints workers have had about their own safety while working during the coronavirus outbreak—complaints that have sparked walkouts across the country in recent weeks. “They have failed absolutely,” Umel said, “in being able to protect their own workers.” 

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.


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We Need the Labor Movement To Organize Worker Fightback in the Face of the COVID-19 Crisis

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Life-and-death circumstances are being imposed on U.S. workplaces and workers are increasingly responding by standing up, fighting back and walking out, but frequently without the support of organized labor. Unions have a choice right now: Hunker down and try to ride out the COVID-19 storm or put our shoulders to the task of assisting workers in their fight to either improve conditions on the job or shut their workplaces down. If unions seize the moment, we can not only improve the immediate situation for millions of workers but also create a wave that changes our society greatly for the better, organizes many new workers into unions and forges a generation of workplace leaders who will be able to build fighting organizations for years to come.

With the enhanced unemployment benefits currently in place and with real fears surrounding just showing up for work every day, workers have the upper hand. Employers need them much more than the other way around. Workers who learn how to use collective action to shut a workplace down or to force management to yield to their safety and compensation demands will not soon forget those lessons.

The immediate need of workers at this moment is not a comprehensive list of demands but rather three basic principles that speak to their survival needs.

  • Fight to make employers shut down all workplaces except those truly critical to sustaining life until the public health crisis has been controlled.
  • Give workers in those critical jobs everything they need to do their work safely and compensate them for the immense risk they are taking.
  • Provide robust economic support for everyone else to allow and incentivize them to stay home.

Likewise, rather than an attempt to plan a national coordinated set of actions that would likely be joined by only a smattering of already-committed activists, what is needed instead is to help large numbers of workers gain the tools they need to lead fights at their workplaces.

Out of these fights the workers will develop the demands they need to protect themselves. And each of these fights, if given the proper direction and support, can inspire solidarity throughout the country and move many other workers into action, creating the conditions not only for more workplace victories but also to produce political pressures that force the federal government to address the needs of working people.

While the relief packages passed by Congress so far provide some economic support to laid-off workers, much more is needed, including to address all those left out, not least the undocumented. Congress must also act to provide health care to all given that millions more will now be without insurance due to the loss of their jobs. Already, a number of excellent proposals address these issues. Getting workers into motion is going to be the way to win them, just as widespread worker unrest in the 1930s won the relief programs and labor rights that workers needed then.

To organize the worker fightback needed right now, unions should:

•       Aggressively promote these principles, both to their own members and to the unorganized, and then provide workers the help they need to take on their employers.

•       Provide basic toolkits on their websites to educate workers on their rights and to outline for them the initial steps in self-organization and taking their demands to the boss.

•       Make union staff available to provide guidance and facilitate needed support.

•       Recruit labor leaders and member activists committed to solidarity actions that produce immediate pressure on the relevant corporate or political targets.

•       Create new and robust structures for coordinating effective solidarity.

Our union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), has called on all workers, both our members and nonunion workers, to stand up and fight. We have created online resources to help nonunion workers take action to win safe workplaces. We have published a special issue of UE Steward on how to organize members around COVID-19 issues in the workplace. Alongside the Democratic Socialists of America we are launching a joint effort called the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, which will provide organizing and logistical support to workers who are ready to take on their boss. Our members, both in organized shops and in workplaces where we have organizing campaigns, are winning concessions from their employers through militant and creative tactics.

Now is the time for all labor organizations committed to forging a better society for working people to step up and help launch workers into the kinds of fights needed to win that future. UE is committed to doing just that, and to work with and support all others who do so. We see some others in the labor movement doing likewise, but not nearly enough. We call on all labor unions to join us in this fight.

This blog was originally published at InTheseTimes on April 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Carl Rosen is the UE General President. Andrew Dinkelaker is the UE General Secretary-Treasurer. Gene Elk is the UE Director of Organization.


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Why You Should Let Your Employees Work from Home

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To achieve a better work-life balance, a growing number of people are looking for flexible work arrangements.

From an employee’s perspective, working from home has several perks that make their lives easier.

Numerous studies show that remote employment results in a win-win situation for both employee and employer.

Here are six reasons you should explore the option of letting your employees telecommute regularly.

It Increases Worker Productivity

Surprisingly, most workers tend to be more productive in work from home arrangements than in an office environment.

Remote workers tend to be more productive because they are spared the myriad of distractions present in a busy office environment.

Productivity killers that range from loud colleagues, endless meetings, office politics, heavy foot traffic, walk-in clients, and more are rife in most office environments.

For employees whose jobs call for deep concentration, a quiet home environment eliminates distractions to allow them more time to crush their tasks.   

It Makes Your Workers More Committed

Telecommuting comes with the risk of workers binging on Netflix or embarking on long shopping trips when they should be working.

Surprisingly, only a small portion of remote workers get suckered in by the newly found freedom.

Allowing workers to telecommute sends a strong message that you value and trust them enough to afford them such privileges.

Research shows that workers who enjoy work from home employment are not only innovative and productive but also tend to be fiercely loyal to the company.

You Get to Streamline Your Workflow

A smooth workflow is central to the success of your business.

Embracing a telecommuting business culture forces you to take a deeper look at your workflow.

With deep insights into the amount of work that needs to be done, you can eliminate bottlenecks and optimize the execution plan.

A smooth workflow improves business productivity and efficiency while letting you increase your turnaround time as well as the quality of service.

You Get to Lower Your Overhead Costs

Utility bills alongside the payroll take a massive chunk out of monthly revenue, drastically reducing your net profit.

Switching to a telecommuting model lets you cut down on each of these costs and grow your profit margins.

For starters, it eliminates the need to rent a vast office space since you only need to accommodate a few essential personnel or none at all.

Secondly, you can switch your hiring models and strictly work with independent contractors instead of full-time employees.

Working with freelancers and independent contractors eliminates some payroll obligations such as medical insurance, retirement benefits, overtime, and more.

You Get to Hire the Best Talent

Skilled workers routinely turn down lucrative job offers if the position entails uprooting their entire life and relocating to a new city.

You can hire the best workers without forcing them to abandon their friends and family in the pursuit of their dream jobs.

Better yet, hiring remote workers lets you tap into the global workforce and staff your company with skilled experts from around the world.

A diverse workforce comprising of top experts from around the world lets you come up with innovative products and increases your global appeal.

You Can Cherry Pick Your Clients

During the growth phase, it’s only natural to go after every client who promises you a payday.

Problem clients tend to be too demanding, slow to pay and dispute every invoice, all of which can suck the joy right out of your work.

They can take up so much of your time with endless complaints to the point of leading you to neglect your other clients, negatively impacting revenue generation and customer satisfaction.

High caliber clients trust your capabilities and won’t set impossible deadlines or try to micromanage your operations.

Don’t Get Left Behind, Let Them Work from Home

In addition to saving time and money on the commute, remote workers are able to tend to their personal needs without asking for time off.

At first glance, it seems working from home skews in favor of the employee, which, naturally, is likely to put employers on edge.

However, you stand to reap benefits by the boatload if you allow your employees the option to work from home.

Printed with permission.

About the Author: Katrina McKinnon is the founder of Small Revolution, which started as a knowledge base for online store owners and has now expanded into offering training for virtual assistants and copywriters. Through Small Revolution, you will learn the skills in a fun and practical way.


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Bosses can make essential workers exposed to COVID-19 keep working, this week in the war on workers

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The Centers for Disease Control gave employers the go-ahead to make essential workers who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 keep working right up until they get sick. That’s despite the well-established risk of transmission from people who don’t have symptoms. Under the policy, exposed workers should wear a mask and companies should clean and disinfect a lot, but still!

“Essential workers in food processing, agriculture, janitorial, and many other critical industries are disproportionally workers of color, who are underpaid and already at increased risk of serious complications if they become infected with coronavirus,” National Employment Law Project executive director Rebecca Dixon said in a statement. “With this new policy, the Trump administration has completely abandoned its responsibility to protect workers.”

Parents are not okay:

Viruses — pandemics — expose and exacerbate the existing dynamics of a society — good and bad. They are like a fun-house mirror, grossly reflecting ourselves back to us. One of those dynamics is the burden we put on individual parents and families. We ask individuals to solve for problems that are systemically created.

Everything from the lack of paid sick leave and parental leave to the fact that the school day ends at 3pm when the typical work day goes several hours longer — yet aftercare is not universally available. And that’s saying nothing of the fact that we need universal healthcare, irrespective of employment. Parents pour endless energy into solving for systems that don’t make sense and don’t work.

Workers don’t know who to turn to when employers won’t close down during the pandemic:

From crafts stores to custom closet installers to home-furnishing retailers, corporate lawyers have been arguing in letters to their workforces that they are too important to close even as the public-health crisis worsens. Employees who are dubious of those claims have been parsing the language of their stay-at-home orders and asking government officials why they are still expected to clock in.

While some states have moved swiftly to clarify the exemptions, several workers told HuffPost they reached out to their governors’ offices, their mayors, their local health or police departments and have waited days for definitive answers.

Leaked memo reveals the US’ largest health system could fire nurses who post coronavirus policies on social media—and a nurse has already been suspended without pay.

? The U.S. Department of Labor warned employers not to retaliate against workers for reporting unsafe conditions.

Under threat of a strike, Instacart promised its workers hand sanitizer. It’s not coming through with even that much.

The University of Chicago is paying its workers. Including subcontracted workers. This shouldn’t be unusual, but it is.

Grocery store workers need frontline protections:

Black and brown workers are more likely to work in lower-paid, frontline positions like cashiers in retail stores, while white workers are more likely to be represented in management and supervisory roles. This means that the panic shopping that is resulting in lines out of the door and physical fights over supplies is being experienced disproportionately and most directly by workers of color. Shoppers are stocking up on supplies and food to stay home and to minimize exposure or risk, protecting themselves and their families. But what about the workers who are making the food and supplies available? Why isn’t their health and safety being better protected by their employers?

Temporary SNAP benefit boost a no-brainer for more economic stimulus.

The coronavirus crisis exposes how fragile capitalism already was.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Food bank lines and rent struggles show just how big of an economic emergency coronavirus is

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Soaring unemployment is having immediate effects on millions of people, in an economy where—before coronavirus hit—40% of people said they’d struggle to deal with an unexpected $400 expense. Two of the big impacts are on two of the most basic expenses: rent and food.

According to data from a trade group, 31% of renters hadn’t paid rent during the first five days of April, compared with 18% over the same days in 2019. And food banks are overwhelmed with new demand and plummeting food donations.

While some cities and states have passed eviction moratoriums, that doesn’t solve the problem of what happens when the moratoriums are lifted and people who couldn’t pay their rent now owe months of back rent, without protections. But small landlords with mortgages also face potential problems—and if you don’t have sympathy for landlords, the head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition gave The New York Times a reason you should at least be concerned for their tenants. If the small landlords who own more affordable properties are foreclosed on, those properties are likely to be bought up by investors who will retool them for higher-income tenants, squeezing out still more people who need affordable housing. “One way or the other, we have to get aid to smaller landlords so that the precious affordable-housing stock we have still exists on the other end of this crisis,” she said.

So far, very little of the coronavirus stimulus passed by the federal government will help directly with housing, though as newly jobless people get the expanded unemployment insurance, it may ease the emergency somewhat. But this is another area Congress needs to look at in the necessary next stimulus.

While rent not being paid happens largely out of the public eye—except in a few cases of tenant organizing—the economic crisis is being made visible in food bank lines. Many of us have by now seen footage of a terrifyingly long line of cars waiting for food distribution in Pittsburgh, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Food banks across the country are seeing several times as many people as usual showing up in need—in Washington state and Louisiana, the National Guard has been called in to help with distribution. “Their presence provides safety for us during distributions,” the head of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank told The New York Times.

Meanwhile, food bank donations are down. Grocery stores that usually donate food getting close to its sell-by date have been cleaned out by people stocking up on food for periods of staying home, and restaurants and hotels that often donate food have shut down. Some food banks are getting just half the direct food donations they usually do, forcing them to buy food—and their usual ability to buy in bulk at reduced prices is also taking a hit given the runs on grocery stores. 

The Food Bank of Greater Omaha would normally be spending $73,000 a month on food. Now, it’s $675,000. Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas reports spending an extra $300,000 to $400,000 a week on food. Feeding America, a network of food banks, is facing a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next six months.

Again, many people’s immediate food needs will become less of an emergency as aid already passed by Congress reaches them. But that’s not happening quickly enough to keep people from going hungry now—and the scale of the need we’re seeing now shows that it’s not going to be enough. Congress needs to do more.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Coronavirus has killed dozens of New York City transit workers after they had to beg for masks

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Workers in New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) took measures into their own hands. They wore their own masks, brought their own bleach solutions to clean shared workspaces, and had bus passengers enter through the rear door and blocked them from sitting too close to drivers. Eventually, the MTA started to catch up. But at least 41 New York City transit workers have died of COVID-19, another 1,500 have tested positive for the virus, and more than 5,500 others are self-quarantining because they have symptoms. That’s a huge hit for a workforce of 70,000.

It’s having a ripple effect through the entire city. The MTA is so understaffed it can’t keep up with even the reduced-by-25% schedule it had planned. Even with ridership down by over 90%, subway platforms and cars are crowded because trains aren’t coming as often, which in turn increases the danger of the virus spreading through the crowds in the city that has become the epicenter of the disease.

Union officials pushed MTA bosses to hand out masks and other safety equipment earlier, but the organization stuck by the Centers for Disease Control’s advice against masks. Some workers who wore their own masks were told to take them off because they violated uniform policy.

Bus drivers, whose passengers walk right by them, have been particularly hard-hit, with at least 11 dead.

If you want a devastating illustration of how the United States has let down its working people, check out the picture up top of MTA cleaning staff in early March and compare it with the one below of a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, being disinfected in late February.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Unemployment claims near 17 million in three weeks as coronavirus ravages economy

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Rebecca Rainey
Quint Forgey

Unemployment claims remained high last week at 6.6 million, the Labor Department reported, as massive job losses continued to pile up due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The claims, for the week ending April 4, flooded in as confirmed coronavirus cases approached 300,000 and as nearly every state ordered its citizens to stay at home. Economic forecasts that predict unemployment will exceed its historic 25 percent peak during the Great Depression are becoming routine, and the number of jobs lost in a mere three weeks now exceeds the 15 million that it took 18 months for the Great Recession to bulldoze from 2007 to 2009.

“In its first month alone, the coronavirus crisis is poised to exceed any comparison to the Great Recession,” said Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao in a statement. “The new normal for UI claims will be the canary in the coal mine for how long effects of the crisis will linger for the millions of newly unemployed Americans.”

The jobless claims are mounting as the federal government struggles to release waves of aid to the economy and businesses shutter. The Federal Reserve on Thursday unveiled emergency programs that could dole out more than $2 trillion in loans to businesses of all sizes, as well as to struggling state and city governments. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate clashed Thursday over a new aid package aimed at bolstering the $2 trillion economic rescue deal that lawmakers approved in March.

The 16.8 million unemployment claims, filed between March 15 and April 4, translate to more than one in 10 workers seeking jobless benefits. “We are nowhere near the end of this,” tweeted Heidi Shierholz, policy director at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “The labor market has been upended.”

State unemployment agencies and the Department of Labor continued to struggle to process claims from a pool of eligible workers that now includes gig workers, independent contractors and workers who in ordinary times wouldn’t have worked long enough to qualify for benefits, but became eligible as a result of Congress’ $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package last month. That bill also increased employment benefits by $600 across the board.

The 6.6 million claims filed last week would have set a record going back to 1967, when the Labor Department’s data series began, had the previous two weeks’ claims not done so already.

“This is a catastrophe,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), vice chairman of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, in a statement. “Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs and they likely won’t find another one until the contagion is under control — and that may be a long way off.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that U.S. employers shed 701,000 jobs in March, pushing the unemployment rate up to 4.4 percent, but the survey week for that figure was mid-March, before the crush of claims began. Most estimates put the current unemployment rate in the double digits or close to it.

As policymakers struggled to come to terms with the economic fallout from the pandemic, one economist suggested last month’s expansion of unemployment benefits, including $600 added to every unemployment check through July, could blunt losses from mass layoffs.

Although the unemployment rate “could rise even higher over the coming months,” wrote Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “the damage in terms of lost income may end up being less severe.”

DOL again attributed the jump in claims to the spread of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. In previous weeks, the agency said the claims were concentrated in the services industries, as well as the health care, manufacturing, retail and construction industries.

The greatest number of new unemployment claims were in California, which processed an estimated 925,450 claims last week. America’s most populous state was an early hot spot for the coronavirus’ spread across the country.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that California had processed 2.4 million applications in the three weeks since mid-March, accounting for more than 12 percent of the state’s civilian workforce.

After California, Georgia was second with 388,175 new claims filed last week.

New York — the current epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., with more than 149,000 Covid-19 cases — reported more than 345,200 new unemployment claims, according to the federal data.

Although that number is lower than the roughly 366,600 filings two weeks ago, the state government’s failure to process a deluge of inquiries clouded the total count of jobless New Yorkers.

Since March 9, New York has received 800,000 unemployment claims and processed about 600,000 of those filings, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said Thursday. The state’s new online system to apply for unemployment compensation is scheduled to go live later Thursday evening.

In New Jersey, the state Department of Labor reported an all-time record of nearly 215,000 residents filed for unemployment benefits last week,bringing the state’s claims to nearly 577,000 for the three-week period that began March 15.

After New York, New Jersey has the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country — more than 47,000 — and Gov. Phil Murphy has warned the state could soon experience a wave of infections similar to those seen in New York City.

The unemployment figures showed Florida was slightly less hard-hit, with 170,000 claims filed last week in the nation’s third largest state, a decrease from the record 228,000 residents who sought unemployment benefits two weeks ago.

The actual number of Floridians out of work is likely higher, however, as technical glitches with the state’s unemployment benefits website have left the overloaded online system inaccessible for tens of thousands of residents.

The pandemic’s international economic toll was also laid out in devastating detail Thursday in Canada’s latest federal employment report, which revealed America’s neighbor to the north lost more than a million jobs in March.

That decline, which represented 5.3 percent of the jobs in a country of 37 million people, helped drive Canada’s unemployment rate from 5.6 percent in February to 7.8 percent — its largest one-month increase since comparable data became available in 1976.

Joe Anuta, Andy Blatchford, Gary Fineout, Katherine Landergan and Katy Murphy contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on April 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

About the Author: Quint Forgey is a breaking news reporter for POLITICO.

Quint previously worked as a digital producer and editorial intern for POLITICO, a freelancer and news intern for The Wall Street Journal, an associate producer for Louisiana Public Broadcasting, a reporting intern for The News Journal in Delaware, and a national reporting fellow for the Carnegie-Knight News21 program.

Quint graduated from Louisiana State University, where he served as editor in chief of the student newspaper, The Daily Reveille.Quint Forgey


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Grocery Store Workers Need Frontline Protections

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Grocery store workers, like healthcare workers, first responders, and transportation workers, are currently among those deemed “essential” workers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And, indeed, they have always been essential: they help provide the food and supplies necessary to sustain us all.

But of all the frontline workers whose work puts them in contact with potentially infected members of the public, grocery workers are among those who receive the least protections and the lowest pay.

Now grocery workers, too, are becoming infected—and some are dying of COVID-19.

It is deeply disturbing that several large corporate grocery retailers are simply not doing enough to protect workers’ safety or health during this critical time. Some of these retailers have been accused of harmful practices against workers in normal times. But lax health and safety protections during this crisis are dangerous and intolerable. Some food stores have reportedly put concerns about optics before the health and safety of workers by not allowing gloves to be worn by workers. Despite a recent Politico analysis that revealed cashiers are the largest number of at-risk workers, these workers continue to fight employer inaction.

Of all essential frontline workers, grocery workers are among the least protected and lowest paid.

Black and brown workers are more likely to work in lower-paid, frontline positions like cashiers in retail stores, while white workers are more likely to be represented in management and supervisory roles. This means that the panic shopping that is resulting in lines out of the door and physical fights over supplies is being experienced disproportionately and most directly by workers of color. Shoppers are stocking up on supplies and food to stay home and to minimize exposure or risk, protecting themselves and their families. But what about the workers who are making the food and supplies available? Why isn’t their health and safety being better protected by their employers?

A cashier at a major grocery store in northwest Washington, D.C. says that her employer has done nothing to ensure that workers are protected from the influx of customers that she interacts with daily. The store has not even provided every employee with requested protective gear, leaving many of them to supply their own. When she questioned management about the store supplying workers with protective gear, she was told that masks are not allowed because they only prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the company is only obligated to provide gloves to staff that come into contact with unwrapped food goods. This week, her store changed its policy and is allowing all workers to wear masks. But the workers are still responsible for supplying the masks and gloves themselves. “Even the porter, the person who cleans the bathroom, they don’t provide gloves to him. He brought his own gloves,” she said.

The federal agency in charge of workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has failed to issue a standard requiring employers to implement specific protections to safeguard at-risk workers in this crisis. Congressional efforts to require OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect the most at-risk healthcare workers were blocked by the Trump administration and hospital industry lobbyists.

It has become painfully clear that state and local lawmakers need to swiftly implement health and safety protections for all frontline workers. In Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Vermont, grocery workers have been officially classified as emergency workers—a designation that will make free childcare services available to them during the crisis. But no state has implemented any other required protections for grocery or any other workers. Further, OSHA is not conducting any enforcement when workers complain about unsafe conditions.

In unionized supermarkets, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has pushed large chains to install protective shields between cashiers and customers, and to provide hand sanitizer, additional cleaning and sanitizing of store surfaces, time to wash hands with soap, face shields, masks, gloves, and extend paid sick leave. But workers in non-union grocery stores are left with no required protection and few safety rights.

Black and brown workers are more likely to work in lower-paid, frontline positions like cashiers in retail stores.

Black and brown retail workers already faced large disparities in pay, scheduling, and advancement in their workplaces before the current crisis. These workers also make up a disproportionate number of workers in jobs with the highest injury risksRecent reports have also shown that only 19.7% of Black workers and 16.2% of Latinx workers work in occupations that allow them to telework. The concentration of these communities in the retail and hospitality sectors is a major contributor to these inequities.

With many workers of color on the job in workplaces that may expose them to a potentially deadly transmissible virus, these workers are facing both panic and a status they know all too well: exclusion. In fact, even if Black workers have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, they must then navigate a medical system that has discriminated against their communities long before COVID-19 swept across the globe.

A 61-year old Black woman I spoke with who works as a grocery cashier and has survived two strokes is not only concerned about her health but also has had to take additional steps to purchase groceries for her family. Her shift starts at 6 a.m., but she shows up even earlier to try to buy what she needs before her shift begins and the store gets busy. She began this routine after she was unable to buy toothpaste and soap for herself one day after her six-hour shift ended.

“We don’t have none in stock. We used to have hand sanitizer on each register but since this virus there’s been a backorder for hand sanitizer, so we don’t have any,” she said.

Union protections have proven to be crucial for workers of color and will be even more vital for frontline workers right now. The COVID-19 crisis has propelled workers to unify and use their collective power to secure the protections they need to endure the daunting workdays ahead. Across the country, workers who have joined together to form unions have won some of the strongest standards for essential workers in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The COVID-19 crisis has propelled many workers to use their collective power to secure the protections they need.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a myriad of socioeconomic problems that workers have faced for years. In every recession, disaster, or other crisis in our history, Black and brown people have endured the hardest of hardships. It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic will be no different. The impact on our families, communities, and the economy will extend for years to come, even after we can leave our homes and return to the everyday routines that we sorely miss right now.

Essential frontline workers are keeping the U.S. running during this crisis. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their own well-being to keep the rest of us safe. We must fight for immediate solutions that prioritize strong health and safety standards, wage protections, paid leave, and unemployment insurance to protect frontline workers and all workers affected by this public health crisis.

This blog was originally published at NELP on April 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Shayla Thompson is the government affairs manager on NELP’s Government Affairs team. She is a member of NELP’s committee tasked with change management and facilitating NELP’s commitment to dismantling structural racism. Her tenure at NELP has included conducting research in projects committed to racial equity, creating curriculum to guide NELP’s race caucuses, and facilitating equity training.

Shayla is committed to infusing race and inclusion into federal advocacy and creating policy messaging that reaches all working people.

Before joining NELP, she managed professional development training and social media campaigns for early childcare providers, infant mental health specialists, and parents.


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One Thing We Can Do to Protect Frontline Workers

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Almost exactly 10 years ago, on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and seriously injuring 17 more. To clean it up, BP hired more than 40,000 local residents to remove oil from the beaches and shoreline. They would be working under the blistering summer sun, greatly increasing their risk of heat-related disease or death.

I ran the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2009 through January 2017. Long before the oil reached the Gulf Coast shores, I flew to Louisiana and met with leaders of the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to plan the multiagency effort to ensure that BP protected those workers’ safety and health. OSHA adapted heat disease prevention policies used by the U.S. military to protect soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and pushed BP to comply with them. The rules included extensive rest breaks in the shade, and liquids for rehydration. We had no legal authority to do so, but BP complied—and over the four-month effort, not a single worker was seriously sickened or killed by heat.

This year, a new crisis has put a much bigger swath of the workforce—far more Americans, in many industries—unexpectedly in harm’s way. Millions of American workers are literally risking their lives every day on the job, saving desperately ill patients, ensuring food and medicine get to our stores and homes, and keeping the public safe. Every day there are reports of physiciansnursespolice and emergency responders, even bus drivers, who have died from Covid-19 after their employers failed to implement appropriate infection control measures or provide the adequate respiratory protection or sanitary facilities needed to prevent exposure in the course of their work.

Yet OSHA, the federal agency under the Department of Labor charged with protecting these workers, is almost completely missing from the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead of pressing employers on worker safety, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and President Donald Trump’s political appointees at the Labor Department have decided to tell workers there is little OSHA can do because it has no standard covering airborne infectious diseases. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising safety and health concerns, yet when workers are fired for lodging complaints about safety conditions in their hospitals or warehouses, this administration has been mute.

Existing OSHA regulations require a minimal effort of employers, such as providing soap and water, but I have yet to hear anyone from the Labor Department or the White House announce this fact to the public. Instead, workers in a wide range of industries who face the risk of fatal infection have taken matters into their own hands, launching job actions and strikes to force their employers into providing even basic protections.

We need more than guidance.

OSHA can, and should, be front and center in our efforts to protect these truly essential workers. The agency’s dedicated career staff has great expertise in worker protection, and the agency has issued useful guidance about Covid-19. But guidance is nonenforceable. This is simply shameful.

That’s because besides using its bully pulpit, OSHA has clear options for how to help. It could start by announcing that, using the general duty clause of the OSHA law, the agency will now issue citations against employers who egregiously fail to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. News coverage of these citations would have a huge effect—a recent study reported one OSHA news release is as effective as 210 inspections in reducing workplace hazards.

For health care workers, the most important single action OSHA could and should take right now is to issue an emergency temporary infectious disease standard, requiring health care institutions to develop and implement infection-control plans that follow CDC guidance. (When Congress returns from its recess, it will consider legislation requiring OSHA to issue such a standard.)

In crises, OSHA generally does not issue fines except in cases in which the employer puts its workers at extreme risk. Hospitals that try but fail to obtain needed protective equipment would not be penalized. But the existence of a standard, backed up by the threat of inspections, would motivate many employers to better protect their workers.

I know OSHA could issue this emergency standard with little difficulty because we began drafting such a rule during my tenure. Three years ago, the new administration launched a massive deregulatory effort, halting all work on the infectious disease rule and many other protections.

The larger concern is that OSHA is suffering from malign neglect, reflecting the low regard the president has for the health and safety of the nation’s workers. The agency has not had an assistant secretary—the person who actually runs the agency day to day—since I left 39 months ago. There hasn’t even been a nominee for the position in almost a year. Half of the senior executive positions are empty, and, while the nation’s workforce has gotten much larger, the size of the inspectorate is the smallest it has been in more than 40 years. It would take 165 years for OSHA to inspect every workplace under its jurisdiction just one time.

The Trump administration should not wait for Congress to force it to take badly needed action. This crisis has demonstrated the vital importance of a safe and healthy workforce. OSHA is the only federal agency with the authority and expertise to ensure that worker protection is not sacrificed in the efforts to tame this epidemic and can accomplish this using modest and mostly nonpunitive tools. The administration needs to do its part so every worker who risks their life taking care of patients or stocking our stores or harvesting our crops is able to survive this terrible pandemic, safe and healthy.

This article was originally published at Politico on April 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Michaels served as assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health from 2009 to 2017. He is professor of environmental and occupational health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, and is the author of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception.


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