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OSHA Is Failing Essential Workers. Why Not Let Them Sue Their Bosses?

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Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States early this year, frontline workers in sectors deemed “essential” have staged hundreds of strikes, sickouts and other job actions to protest unsafe working conditions.

At hospitals, warehouses, meat processing plants, fast-food restaurants, transport and delivery services, and retail and grocery stores, workers have demanded their employers do more to prevent the spread of the virus—including keeping worksites clean and providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). They have been aided in many cases by unions and new initiatives like the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee—a joint project of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and the Democratic Socialists of America.

Meanwhile, the government agency tasked with ensuring on-the-job safety—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—has received over 26,000 Covid-related complaints at the federal and state level, but to date has issued citations against only four employers, all of them nursing homes.

While the AFL-CIO has called on OSHA to adopt an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases as an immediate, enforceable mechanism to keep workplaces safe during the pandemic, the agency has refused, saying there’s a lack of “compelling evidence” that diseases like Covid-19 pose a “grave threat” to workers. Instead, OSHA has put forward non-binding guidelines around coronavirus.

Critics like Peter Dooley of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health say OSHA is “missing in action” and that the agency’s lackluster pandemic response is “a national disgrace.”

In a new report released today, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR)—a network of over 60 scholars advocating public protections around health, safety and the environment—is calling on Congress to significantly strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the legislation that first created OSHA nearly 50 years ago.

Katie Tracy, senior policy analyst at CPR and a coauthor of the report, says OSHA’s poor response to the pandemic “is emblematic of several decades of choices by our national and state leaders that prioritize short-term profits ahead of people.”

“Since 1970, Congress and the White House have hollowed out [OSHA], denying it resources and trimming its authority, leaving it in a weak state,” adds CPR member scholar Rena Steinzor, another report coauthor.

As a result of this hollowing out, the agency now has only one inspector for every 79,262 workers. The report explains that with so few resources, OSHA has the capability to perform only one inspection per worksite every 134 years.

CPR member and report coauthor Michael C. Duff points out that “Black, Latinx and other people of color are disproportionately represented” in some of the most high-risk and low-paid jobs deemed essential during the pandemic. “Our governing institutions have done little to safeguard these workers from the health hazards or economic challenges exacerbated by Covid-19,” he says.

The CPR report specifically recommends the Occupational Safety and Health Act be amended to allow workers to enforce the law themselves by filing lawsuits under a private right of action. Such “citizen suits” are already a feature of many other federal regulations, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and Clean Air Act, the report notes.

“Empowering workers with a private right of action is critical to ensuring safer and healthier workplaces because, even with a robust regulatory system, there will always be limits on what OSHA has the resources and political will to do,” the report says. “When the prospect of a private lawsuit is put on the table, the agency may be more motivated, even compelled, to pursue the serious allegations raised by employees.”

The report spells out how a private right of action would work, including provisions for notice of intent to sue, waiting periods, standing, statutes of limitation, discovery, robust remedies, and more. Importantly, it calls for beefed up whistleblower protections to prevent retaliation against employees who speak up, as well as an end to arbitration agreements that require workers to forfeit the right to sue their employers.

Further, the report urges lawmakers to expand the Occupational Safety and Health Act to include public sector workers, farmworkers and gig workers misclassified as independent contractors—all of whom were excluded in the original 1970 legislation.

“Fixing the current system requires an updated and vastly improved labor law that empowers workers to speak up about health and safety hazards, rather than risk their lives out of fear of losing employment and pay,” says CPR board member and report coauthor Thomas McGarity.

Tracy tells In These Times that as a nonprofit, CPR doesn’t do political lobbying, but still hopes that “some of our allies off and on the Hill will find this concept worthy of taking up because it would be such an improvement over the status quo.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are fighting to include employer liability protections in any new Covid relief package, warning there will be “a second epidemic…of frivolous coronavirus lawsuits.”

“Rather than fight for business liability immunity,” Tracy says, “we need to be empowering workers to enforce the law when OSHA won’t.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. 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


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On Medicare and Medicaid’s 55th Birthday, Let’s Expand Benefits—Not Cut Them

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On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law. This crowning achievement was both the culmination of a decades-long effort to attain guaranteed universal health insurance and the first step in the quest for Medicare for All.

In the 55 years since the legislation was signed into law, both programs have proven their worth. Before Medicare, about half of seniors lacked health insurance. They were an illness away from bankruptcy. Today, 99.1 percent of Americans 65 and older are insured, thanks to Medicare. Nine million people with disabilitieswho are under age 65 also have health insurance coverage through Medicare.

More than 65 million Americans have health insurance coverage through Medicaid. Medicaid ensures that poor families have access to health care. It means that seniors and people with disabilities have access to long-term care. Together, Medicare and Medicaid cover more than one-third of the people in our country.

Seniors and people with disabilities have, on average, the highest medical costs. Administering a means-tested program like Medicaid presents administrative challenges. That is why it is so striking that Medicare and Medicaid are more efficient and more cost-effective than private health insurance. It would save money to expand Medicare to cover everyone.

Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages across our country, it’s long past time to improve Medicare and expand its coverage to everyone. Imagine how much worse off we would be right now if Medicare and Medicaid did not exist. And imagine how much better off and better prepared to cope with the pandemic we would be if everyone were covered automatically by an improved Medicare—if people knew that if they felt sick, they could get checked without any copays or deductibles. Imagine if losing employment did not also mean losing health care.

Unfortunately, Republicans, aided by a small fringe group of Democrats, want to go in the opposite direction. The latest Republican COVID-19 proposal, the so-called HEALS Act, includes a bill called the TRUST Act.

The TRUST Act is a devious ploy to dismantle Medicare as we know it, by creating a closed-door process to fast-track benefit cuts. Using the COVID-19 crisis to sneak it through is the worst possible way to say “happy birthday” to Medicare and Medicaid.

Fortunately, Democratic leaders like Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Richard Neal, and Rep. John Larson have been outspoken in their opposition to the bill. So have advocates for seniors, including AARP, which rightfully calls the TRUST Act “a bill that is unrelated to the crisis and that wrongly targets Social Security and Medicare to reduce deficits that have expanded because of needed pandemic relief.”

Congressional leaders must heed these wise words and throw the TRUST Act in the scrap heap where it belongs. Then, they must build on the foundation LBJ signed into law 55 years ago by expanding Medicare and Medicaid instead of cutting them.

During a pandemic that is disproportionately threatening people of color, expanding these programs would be a powerful force for racial justice—just as their creation was. Medicare and Medicaid became law the year after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Hospitals were only allowed to participate in Medicare if they complied with the Civil Rights Act. This led to the desegregation of hospitals throughout the South, improving the quality of care available to people of color.

This was a quiet yet profound achievement. Overnight integration of hospitals, where patients and health care providers interact in the most personal of ways, was a revolution for racial justice. Extending health insurance to low-income Americans, who are disproportionately people of color, was an important step for racial economic justice.

Among the responses demanded by a life-threatening pandemic and the righteous pronouncement that Black Lives Matter should be the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid to a universal program without premiums, co-pays or deductibles.

As a first step, Congress should pass the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, which Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced in response to the pandemic. It would guarantee health care (with no out-of-pocket costs) to all Americans for the duration of the pandemic. This is a 

commonsense public health measure. The last thing we want during a pandemic is for anyone to forgo needed care due to cost concerns.

Congress should then make the guaranteed health care permanent, enacting Medicare for All. As an incremental step, Congress could help struggling families by passing MediKids to provide health care for all children, as the architects of Medicare envisioned as the next step on the road to Medicare for All. They could lower the Medicare age to 55, which would be essential for older workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and may never return to the workforce.

In addition to expanding Medicare and Medicaid to cover more people, Congress should improve the programs for current beneficiaries. The COVID-19 crisis in our nation’s nursing homes reveals the need for the government to cover long-term care in home and community settings, rather than funneling people into institutions. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a plan to do just that. Medicare coverage should also be expanded to include hearing, vision, and dental care.

Medicare and Medicaid are turning 55 amidst some of the most tumultuous times our country has experienced since the Great Depression. Frances Perkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, astutely recognized, “We must devise plans that will not merely alleviate the ills of today, but will prevent, as far as it is humanly possible to do so, their recurrence in the future.”

Policymakers should heed her words, and take the steps necessary to both alleviate this pandemic and prevent the next one. That includes improving Medicare and Medicaid, and expanding them to cover everyone in America.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. She is the author of The Truth About Social Securityand The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works! and the forthcoming Social Security Works for Everyone!


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Child Care Workers Are Now a Mighty Force With a Huge New Union. It Only Took 17 Years.

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A 17-year organizing campaign in California culminated this week in the successful unionization of 45,000 child care providers—the largest single union election America has seen in years. The campaign is a tangible achievement that brings together union power, political might, and social justice battles for racial and gender equality. Now, the hard part begins.

Child Care Providers United (CCPU), the umbrella group now representing workers across the state, is a joint project of several powerful SEIU and AFSCME locals in California. Those unions divided up the state by counties, and workers will be members of either SEIU or AFSCME depending on where they live, as well as being members of CCPU. 

The stage for this week’s vote was set last fall, when California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law legislation that granted bargaining rights to child care providers, who had previously been legally ineligible for unionization. Getting the law changed took 16 years, during which time it made it to the governor’s desk twice, but was vetoed—once by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and again by Jerry Brown. In the months since Newsom signed the bill, the unions used the networks they had already created over the past two decades to administer the election. The vote, announced yesterday, was 97% in favor of the new union.

The road to winning the union was so long that it has seen multiple generations participate. Miren Algorri, a child care provider in San Diego, first became involved because her mother, who was in the same line of work, was active in the campaign from the very beginning. “She would go to meetings, and I would stay behind and take care of the children,” Algorri said. When her mother retired, she carried on—and lasted long enough to see her years of work pay off. 

“It’s taken so long because the work that we do has always been minimized and infantilized,” Algorri said. “It’s because of the way society has seen child care from the very beginning of this country. The foundation was women of color caring for children. Doing work that, according to society, doesn’t require any skills.” The industry’s workforce in California is mostly women and about three-fourths people of color, according to the union. 

Though the bulk of the 17-year campaign was focused on the primary goal of winning the legal right to collective bargaining, it also allowed a disparate statewide workforce to organize and fight for their own issues along the way. (The group had a large pool of dues-paying members even before the law was changed last year.) Although CCPU is brand new as a formal union, it already boasts thousands of members who are seasoned in labor organizing and political lobbying. That will likely come in handy as the group moves into its next phase: negotiating a contract with the state of California. 

Providers who care for low-income children receive a set reimbursement rate from the state, and raising that figure is one of the top priorities in bargaining. Algorri said that in San Diego, she is paid $234 a week to care for an infant for up to 60 hours, and she is obligated to pay her assistants at least the local minimum wage of $13 per hour. That means she can often end up making less than minimum wage herself. She also wants a good healthcare plan, which almost all child care providers lack, as well as some way to save for retirement. “I have been working for 23 years. I have not earned one day of sick leave, and pretty much I don’t have a retirement plan,” she said. “We don’t want a red carpet. Just a decent living.” 

Max Arias, the executive director of SEIU 99, one of the unions behind CCPU, said that the coronavirus pandemic, which struck while the union election was still underway, offered a chance for child care workers to organize to fend off any budget cuts, and to fight to get proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The pandemic has also highlighted the fact that these child care workers are absolutely vital to not only reopening schools, but keeping the entire economy running. Providers have continued to work throughout the pandemic in large part to provide care to the children of other essential workers, so that they can work as well. If child care work becomes economically untenable, the entire system could grind to a halt. 

“Providers will play an outsize role [in school reopening]. A lot of parents are going to need support,” said Arias, whose union already represents thousands of school employees. He ticked off the immediate needs: funding for livable wages and healthcare for child care providers, and for adequate PPE to keep them safe and operational. “If we’re going to reopen the economy, the status quo funding that exists is not enough,” he said, adding that California needs a tax on billionaires, something that he believes the public would support at this moment. Until then, the child care providers will fight for themselves. They are already building a bargaining team, and Arias said that he hopes to have a contract in place within a year, given the urgency of the situation. 

The sheer number of CCPU members, and their established connections with the highest level of state officials and national unions, means that they will be a force in California politics for years to come. They also represent one of the most meaningful instances of material progress in labor power for low-wage workers of color in years. 

For the moment, they have earned the right to simply savor their victory. Miren Algorri brings up a taco shop in her area that has a sign reading, “Patience is the essence of good Mexican cuisine.” 

“It’s the same with us,” she said. “We’ve cultivated that quality over the years.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for 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 [email protected]


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Major teachers union will back ‘safety strikes’ to block unsafe school reopening

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The American Federation of Teachers will support its members if they decide to strike over the rush to reopen schools without regard for safety, the union announced Tuesday. The union has been pushing for increased federal funding to help schools reopen safely, but with Mitch McConnell’s Senate taking its sweet time and Donald Trump demanding in-person schooling regardless of safety, teachers can’t just sit and wait.

“Nothing is off the table when it comes to the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve,” the resolution from the 1.7 million-member union’s executive council reads, “including supporting local and/or state affiliate safety strikes on a case-by-case basis as a last resort.”

The AFT’s guidelines for safe reopening in person include the ability of schools to implement social distancing, ventilation and other upgrades to schools, adequate hand-washing facilities, and mask-wearing. But additionally, the union calls for communities to meet safety standards and not reopen schools until “The average daily community infection rate among those tested for COVID-19 is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is below 1 percent,” as well as having in place contact tracing and “a statewide, city- and/or community-level authority empowered to trigger closure in the event of a spike in infection or when public health standards aren’t being met.” 

The current Senate Republican proposal includes just $70 billion of the hundreds of billions of dollars in funding experts say are needed to make schools safe, and Republicans are requiring in-person classes for access to much of that already inadequate funding. So schools that aren’t safe to open because they require additional funding to make them safe would be entirely screwed. As is the Republican way.

“Why would anyone trust President Trump with reopening schools, when he has mishandled everything else about the coronavirus?” AFT President Randi Weingarten asked in a speech to the union’s convention, being held online. “Why would anyone trust Betsy DeVos, who has zero credibility about how public schools actually work? Why would anyone try to reopen schools through force and threats, without a plan and without resources, creating chaos? Unless all they wanted was for it to fail?”

”Before the virus’ resurgence, and before Trump’s and DeVos’ reckless ‘open or else’ threats, 76 percent of AFT members said they were comfortable returning to school buildings if the proper safeguards were in place,” Weingarten noted. But recent events have changed that—and it’s beyond clear that the proper safeguards will not be in place if Trump has anything to do with it.

Teachers continue to fight it out state by state, trying to find a way to educate kids without risking the lives of teachers and students alike. The Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has sued Gov. Ron DeSantis over his reckless push to reopen. After pressure from Massachusetts teachers unions, the state’s schools will open 10 days late to give time to prepare for whatever it is education will look like. “We had 24 hours to plan for crisis learning remotely in the spring, and not a single minute in the last 13 weeks to stop and reflect and evaluate and revise it,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said. The 10-day pause is intended to provide that time—but teachers in the state are still pushing for other key provisions to make the coming year safe. In New York City, the Movement of Rank and File Educators is threatening a sickout if the city doesn’t ensure safety. In California, teachers unions were pushing back against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pressure to reopen in person—until Newsom ordered schools in much of the state to open remotely until things are safer.

Schools are massively important not just to kids but to the economy as a whole. Yet Republicans have put everything else ahead of them, making it essentially impossible to safely open schools in much of the country. This required a giant investment months ago to make school buildings safer, and a giant effort to reduce community transmission of coronavirus so that well-ventilated schools with social distancing and mask-wearing have even a small prayer of avoiding outbreaks. It shouldn’t be on teachers to make federal and state and local lawmakers bend to what the science is already telling them.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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California Hospital Workers Strike, Fracturing Pandemic’s Uneasy Labor Peace

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Despite nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and working conditions that have often been life-threatening, there have not been major strikes of hospital workers in America since the coronavirus pandemic struck. Until now.

More than 700 employees of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a regional trauma center in California’s Sonoma County, held a five-day strike that concluded on Friday. Foremost among the motivating issues were cuts in health care and paid sick leave that the hospital, owned by Providence St. Joseph Health, was pushing on employees during a contentious contract bargaining campaign. The employees are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

“The biggest reason is because we’ve been out of contract for over a year, and the hospital is trying to force us into a pretty bad contract,” said Steven Batson, an anesthesia tech and 10-year veteran of the hospital, speaking from the picket line last week, where he was joined by hundreds of his coworkers. The company wants to significantly increase health care premiums, Batson said, and to take paid time off away from senior workers and shift it to newer workers as a recruitment tool. Batson, a shop steward, said the contentious bargaining over this contract is “absolutely” the worst he has experienced in his ten years.

Chuck Desepte, an X-ray technician who has been at Santa Rosa for 13 years, agreed. “It’s the takeaways that I’m not accepting,” he said. “They can afford this. We don’t want to go backwards. We’ve been here for this community over and over again.”

In May, the New York Times reported that Providence Health, which received a bailout of more than $500 million from the federal government in the CARES Act, has a $12 billion cash pile and sizable investments in hedge funds and venture capital. “Last year, Providence’s portfolio of investments generated about $1.3 billion in profits, far exceeding the profits from its hospital operations,” the Times wrote.

Though the strike was not directly caused by the fallout of the coronavirus, the pandemic is playing an unavoidable role. Batson said that although the union held a strike authorization vote in February that passed overwhelmingly, it held off on taking action once the pandemic hit. He said that the hospital was slow to require universal masking, and that to this day, housekeeping staff and outpatient lab technicians who do coronavirus testing are not given adequate PPE, like N95 masks. “The hospital has definitely used this pandemic as a weapon against us,” he said, including by trying to portray the workers as irresponsible for going on strike.

In a statement on the first day of the strike, the hospital wrote that “we are deeply disappointed that NUHW has decided to hold a five-day strike given that the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise in Sonoma County and the potential for a significant increase in hospitalizations remains.” The company also hastened to paint employees as selfishly exploiting current events. “The union has made clear in communications to our caregivers that this is not a strike about personal protective equipment (PPE) or workplace safety. Instead, this is an ordinary dispute over the terms of our labor contract,” the hospital wrote. “It is unfortunate and unfounded that the union is using COVID-19 as a platform for its negotiating tactics. We never deny a caregiver PPE.”

The company itself is playing hardball. It tried to dissuade the strike with preemptive economic threats, posting ominous fliers warning that, “If NUHW submits a strike notice, our current wage offer of an annual 3% increase will be lowered to 2%, to account for the significant expense of a disruptive strike, and the current offer will be pulled off the table.” (Time will tell whether that threat stands as negotiations continue.) As soon as the strike was called, the company stopped deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks, a move that serves to annoy and hassle the union, making it much more time-intensive to collect dues. Contracted replacement workers from an outside agency were brought in for the five-day duration of the strike.

Though every labor action is unique, the fact that NUHW was willing to go through with the strike in the face of the inevitable attacks about responsibility during the pandemic could signal that the fragile labor peace that has mostly reigned in the healthcare sector—an industry afflicted with more than its share of dissatisfied and endangered union workers—may be buckling. Unions that have been cautious about going on strike over contract issues during this crisis will sooner or later be forced to decide whether they will allow employers (who may have multi-billion-dollar investment portfolios) to make them swallow concessions they would not have otherwise accepted. The employees at Santa Rosa, who worked through major wildfires in their area in 2017 and 2019 before facing the Covid outbreak this year, will soon find out if their bold action pays off.

It was not an easy decision. “We’re health care workers,” said Desepte. “We want to take care of people.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for 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 [email protected]


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Thousands of federal workers say they’ve gotten COVID-19 on the job

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Even when people survive COVID-19, their health can be seriously damaged, and their lives changed. We don’t know yet how many people will suffer long-lasting effects, but we can find one sign of how widespread the physical devastation is in federal workers’ claims for disability compensation after they contracted the virus on the job.

About 4,000 federal workers have filed for disability compensation, The Washington Post reports, while 60 families are seeking survivors’ benefits. The number is expected to grow to 6,000 by August 4.

The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act program administered by the Labor Department announced in March that, for workers at high risk of being infected on the job, such as first responders, public health and medical workers, or law enforcement, it would “accept that the exposure to COVID-19 was proximately caused by the nature of the employment and will only require medical evidence that establishes a diagnosis of COVID-19, such as a positive COVID-19 test result.” Other workers have to show that they contracted the virus on the job.

”Employees of three departments with high concentrations of jobs deemed to carry the highest risk of exposure—Homeland Security, Justice and Veterans Affairs—accounted for most of the 4,011 claims filed through July 23,” the Post reports. “Of those, 1,623 had been granted, fewer than seven denied, 25 withdrawn and the rest were waiting to be adjudicated—including all of the death claims.”

But even setting aside the claims by survivors of federal workers who died, there are around 4,000 claims by people who say they contracted the virus in the course of working for the government. And they’re a drop in the bucket of federal workers who’ve gotten sick or died: more than 5,000 infections among civilian Defense Department employees and 32 deaths; more than 3,000 total cases among Veterans Affairs employees and 40 deaths; and more.

Some federal agencies have been recalling workers to the office in July, a move that exposes more to risk especially as coronavirus cases spike in many states.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Time to push back on the unsafe rush to reopen schools

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Reopening schools is a major workers’ issue in multiple ways. There are the workers inside schools: not just teachers but paraprofessionals, librarians, custodial workers, nurses. Their lives are at stake in the push to reopen schools without regard for safety. Then there are the parents whose ability to work rests in part on their kids not being at home, needing them every three minutes. And, of course, schools prepare children for many of the kinds of work they may do in adulthood—and send them messages how they will be valued and treated as adult workers. Right now, every one of those groups is getting the message that they don’t matter.

On August 3, a national day of resistance is planned by Demand Safe Schools, a coalition of teachers unions, education advocates, and grassroots parents’ groups. While “safe” is a moving target these days, they are emphasizing not just safety in schools but the equitable conditions that will make all students safer at home and better supported for remote learning if that’s what happens. You can check out their list of demands below.

  • No reopening until the scientific data supports it
  • Police-free schools
  • All schools must be supported to function as community schools with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses and community/parent outreach workers
  • Safe conditions including lower class sizes, PPE, cleaning, testing, and other key protocols
  • Equitable access to online learning
  • Support for our communities and families, including moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance to those not able to work or who are unemployed, and other critical social needs
  • Moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing
  • Adequate and equitable funding, through federal stimulus
  • Massive infusion of federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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‘Oil on the inequality fire’: How slashing jobless aid could widen the wealth gap

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Congress appears poised to dramatically reduce a federal program that has been providing an extra $600 per week for jobless workers since the spring.

How Congress decides to help the tens of millions of unemployed workers during the pandemic could determine whether the stark gap between America’s rich and poor will continue to widen amid a crisis that has already hit the lowest earners the hardest.

Economic downturns historically have been more damaging for the poor. But in the coronavirus-induced recession, low-income workers are disproportionately dependent on enhanced unemployment benefits in part because shutdowns have wiped out low-wage, in-person job opportunities in industries like hospitality and retail — and have made it dangerous if not impossible to search for other gigs.

More than two-thirds of those earning a salary of less than $25,000 are now out of a job, according to the most recent Census survey data — a number that has risen in recent weeks even as higher-wage sectors have shown potential signs of recovery.

The bottom quarter of wage earners comprise a full third of all recipients receiving jobless benefits, a larger proportion than any other sector, the Congressional Budget Office found. And they are the least likely to have savings to lean on to weather the crisis.

Now Congress appears poised to dramatically reduce a federal program that has been providing an extra $600 per week for jobless workers since the spring, the consequences of which will fall heavily on the lowest-wage employees, economists warn. That could exacerbate already staggering wealth and income divides, which have been growing for decades and which are larger in the U.S. than in any other nation in the G-7, a group of major developed countries. And it could hurt workers of color in particular, who are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.

“There’s a great risk that it will compound the existing inequalities,” said Chuck Collins, a director with the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank. “Depending on how both the emergency stimulus response and recovery are designed, it could throw oil on the inequality fire.”

Spiraling inequality has significant ripple effects, economists say, and could contribute to political and financial instability in the country while worsening the economic recession. Moody’s, the credit ratings service, this month flaggedpersistent and growing racial and income inequalities in the U.S. as “potent forces” that are heightening social risk and could adversely affect the country’s economic and institutional strength.

At the same time, many economists argue that it will become more difficult and expensive for society in the long run to not help the most disadvantaged workers today. Hilary Hoynes, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who focuses on economic disparities, said children who have a lower quality and quantity of food have lower educational outcomes and less economic well-being throughout adulthood.

“So there’s a way in which not doing enough today is going to cost you more in the future,” she said.

Already, the wealth divide is dramatic: The top 20 percent of the country held more than three-fourths of all household wealth in 2016, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of consumer finance data. The bottom 20 percent held just 2 percent.

The coronavirus crisis is almost certain to worsen that. A May report led by economists from the International Monetary Fund found that recent major outbreaks, including H1N1 and Ebola, worsened income inequality for five years beyond the events. Without “deliberate and strenuous attempts to protect the most vulnerable segments of society,” the coronavirus’ effect on inequality could be greater than previous events, they warned.

Slashing the level of unemployment aid now, when new jobless claims are rising and as data shows roughly one job opening for every four unemployed people, will also hinder a recovery by sparking a drop-off in spending and reducing the amount of money flowing through the economy, analysts say.

As of early July, low-income consumers had cut their spending by just 2 percent from January levels, according to an analysis by Harvard economists, largely because their wages were supported by a combination of unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.

As Congress searches for ways to stimulate the economy, most economists say jobless aid is one of the quickest and most effective ways to get cash directly into the hands of those who need it most. Low-wage workers are likely to spend any aid money immediately. And despite its up-front cost, $1 of spending on unemployment benefits sparked an estimated $1.61 in economic activity during the Great Recession, according to a 2010 report by Princeton University economist Alan Blinder and Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi.

“If we get people unemployment insurance, if we get people the ability to feed their families, our entire economy comes out better on the other side of this,” said Martha Gimbel, a labor economist with the philanthropic group Schmidt Futures.

Meanwhile, the longer unemployment remains elevated, the more cyclical the consequences of joblessness become for the workers currently dependent on their weekly benefit checks. And the Congressional Budget Office forecast earlier this month that without further federal spending, the unemployment rate could remain heightened for years — not recovering to its pre-pandemic level for more than a decade.

“People aren’t going to be able to pay rent. They could face foreclosure. They may rack up huge credit card debts that will stay with them for years. Their credit rating is going to be affected, and that isn’t easy to fix,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “It’s incredibly expensive to be poor in the United States.”

Republican lawmakers, who initially opposed any extension of enhanced jobless benefits and remain divided over the path forward, are now pushing for a lower level of additional aid to remain in place. They say the $600 boost too often provides workers with more than they were making while at work and therefore provides a disincentive to return to their jobs.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking Senate Republican, criticized the “bonus” $600 checks on Wednesday as a “heavy wet blanket on our economy” that will “stop people from getting back on the job.”

“You can’t pay people more to not work than to work,” Barrasso said on Fox News.

Democrats, meanwhile, have already voted to extend the extra $600 a week through the end of January.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), the vice chair of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, acknowledged that while that step alone won’t reduce income inequality, “what we want to do is at least not make it any worse.”

“So far we’ve avoided the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ scenario of millions of Americans going hungry — of people losing their homes, people losing their cars, people just desperate,” Beyer said, referring to the John Steinbeck novel about the Great Depression. “That’s what we’re facing if we don’t re-up the unemployment insurance.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro.


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Five Reasonable Accommodations at Work

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With workplaces reopening in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, people with all types of disabilities are wondering if they can ask their employer for what they need.  Here are five common ADA accommodations and how the law has treated them.

The good news is that, with some thought, many of these adjustments will benefit everyone—creating a safer and more productive work environment.  Workplaces, like architecture, can be designed to minimize barriers. 

UNIVERSAL DESIGN: The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

United States Access Board

1. Adjusted Work Times

Adjusting work hours can help people with many kinds of disabilities, and can cut down on workplace crowding.  If schedule adjustments are possible for the job, they are a reasonable accommodation. Even adjusting the schedule for a less crowded commute may be reasonable.[1] 

2. Adding Protective Equipment

Courts have said protective equipment—like masks and gloves—can be reasonable to keep people with disabilities on the job and safe, even if the employer generally does not provide or allow it.[2]  Many employees are asking to use their own equipment, and this is likely to be a reasonable request.  Indeed, usually the employer will have to provide reasonable protective equipment, or even modify the workspace. 

3. Fixing Mask Policies

On the other hand, some people with disabilities need adjustments to masks or other protective equipment that employers may want to mandate for all workers.  For deaf peoplepeople with sensory sensitivities or claustrophobia, and people with breathing impairments, for example, masks can be a problem. 

The key is to accomplish the goal of keeping everyone safe.  With some thought, that can be done in ways that work for everyone.

4. Work from Home

Many judges used to be skeptical when people with disabilities asked to work remotely.[3]  That law is changing fast.[4]  If the job can be done remotely, an employer should consider it. 

5. Temporary Leave

As a last resort, workers can simply ask to take time off.  Disability law usually doesn’t require pay during the leave, although other laws, insurance, or contracts may.   The key to a temporary leave request is to make it reasonable—clear communication and an expected time frame are important.  Employers have to be able to take care of business while the worker is out.

These are just a few examples—many other adjustments may be reasonable, depending on the situation. A couple more points:

Medical Documentation

Employers can ask for reasonable medical documentation.  Here is the EEOC’s guidance.

Interactive Process

The law calls for an “interactive process” when a worker requests an accommodation.  That means an employer must work with the employee to figure out what is possible.  It also means the employee must work with the employer—the law does not always require the employer to give the first accommodation requested. Now more than ever, let’s come together and find ways for all of us to get back to work.

Resources


[1] See, e.g., Lyons v. Legal Aid Soc‘y, 68 F.3d 1512, 1514 (2d Cir. 1995).

[2] See, e.g. Barry v. Illinois Dep’t of Corr., No. 114CV03199MMMTSH, 2019 WL 1083759, at *5 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2019).

[3] See, e.g. EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 782 F.3d 753, 761 (6th Cir. 2015) (“[R]egularly attending work on-site is essential to most jobs.”).

[4] See, e.g. Masters v. Class Appraisal, Inc., No. 217CV11283LJMEAS, 2019 WL 4597365, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 23, 2019); Boltz v. United Process Controls, No. 1:16-CV-703, 2017 WL 2153921, at *10 (S.D. Ohio May 17, 2017).

This blog originally appeared at ADA Update on May 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maia Goodell is a civil rights lawyer committed to community lawyering for people and organizations of people with disabilities.


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How Workplace Rights Could Change for Remote Workers

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Knowing your workplace rights protects you 

In every civil society, certain rights have been put in place to guarantee equity and fairness for all. The same goes for every workplace. Every employee has certain rights that they are entitled to that provide a safe and non-toxic environment where they can thrive and excel. These rights affect diverse aspects of workplace ethics in relation to the employee. This includes pay, health, safety, bullying at work, discrimination, entitlements, breaks, and much more.

As an employee, it is vital that you know and understand:

  • The terms and conditions of your employment. 
  • Your rights to health and safety, and against bullying and discrimination.
  • Your access to precautionary gear and safety equipment.
  • And most importantly, where to get help if any of the workplace challenges listed above arise.

Having substantial knowledge of these rights can protect you if the situation arises. 

Are you treated fairly as a remote worker? 

How Can the Workplace Rights of a Remote Worker Change?

With recent global developments, advancement in technology, and ongoing world crises, the need for many more employers and their employees to create a remote working arrangement, both formally and informally has arisen. More arrangements have been made to cater to and support a large percentage of workers to work remotely.

But do these developments truly benefit remote workers? Does it cater to their rights as workers or have their workplace rights been sidelined? In cases like this, it is easy for a lot of employers to get carried away with the concept of remote work, that they fail to extend the appropriate workplace rights to their employees. Many workplace rights and privileges were created to mainly cater to workers in the physical workspace and therefore, tend to leave out virtual workers. 

What this means in essence, is that:

  • Typical rights such as access to health and safety may be cut off or reduced since they may no longer report to the office.
  • Suitability of the worker’s remote working environment for their type of work may not be considered.
  • Discrimination or stereotyping (which may affect decision-making) may occur against those that work remotely.
  • Breach of employee privacy may occur due to excessive surveillance from the company.
  • There may be blurred lines between work hours and off-hours (instigated by the employer) since the employee now works virtually. 

This should not be so because rights in the workplace should cover all employees, not only those at the physical workspace. Remote workers have workplace rights and entitlements just as well as the employee who reports at the office. 

Knowing your Rights as a Remote Worker

Before you begin to examine your rights as a remote worker, it is important that you meet the standards of a remote worker as recognized by many companies. A remote worker is someone who works outside of a traditional office. This could be anywhere, your bedroom, favorite coffee shop, or lounging by the poolside. What matters is that the job gets done. If this description fits you, take a look at these important rights you ought to know and exercise as a remote worker.

  1. You have the right to a private life and family life. Although your employer has the right to monitor you, you must be adequately informed and aware of it. This covers emails, internet access, telephone calls, data, and images. 
  2. You have the right to see any information that has been recorded about you.
  3. You have the right to adequate health care and safety support from your employer.
  4. You have the right to reasonable working hours and at least 20minutes of rest breaks.
  5. You have the right to a standard employment contract.
  6. You have the right to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.

In conclusion

As a remote worker, always remember that it is within your right to request for fairness in any working condition. Employers and HR need to work together to ensure that the welfare of every employee is adequately catered to. This would create a balance in workplace rights for all types of workers, remote or not. 

Alex Capozzolo is the owner of the Brotherly Love Real Estate blog and a content writer for the real estate industry. Our focus is on helping people through one of the most important investment decisions of their lifetime by seamlessly providing fast, honest and professional real estate services.

About the Author: Alex Capozzolo is the co-owner of Brotherly Love Real Estate.


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