• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

How the Covid Land Rush Is Hurting New Farmers

Share this post

Profile photo of Sadie Morris

The pandemic has inspired city dwellers and investors to buy land in rural areas. That’s driving up farmland prices and pushing some beginning farmers out of the market.

Abel Dowden, age 20, grew up on his family’s beef farm in the Missouri Ozarks. He just got married and is ready to start his own farm. Dowden had his eye on a neighboring place but he is a day late and a dollar short. Over the span of the last year, the price of the adjoining property has tripled. Since Dowden can’t afford the new price, the landowner decided to hold on to it until the right buyer comes along.

What caused this rapid spike in land value? Who will the right buyer be?

The data is still being analyzed but already agricultural economists across the country have noticed a marked increase in agricultural land value caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this new market, locals looking for their retirement property and out-of-staters looking for some peaceful country living or an easy investment compete with, and often out-compete, new farmers.”When newcomers move in and take that land out of production, they actually threaten rather than boost the rural economy.”

During the pandemic, federal stimulus money has poured into rural communities in the form of small business assistance, farm aid, unemployment benefits and income-based payments. While the money has helped some scrape by this year, it has left others with cash on hand they wouldn’t otherwise have. Levi McDaris, a commercial banker in the Missouri Ozarks, says that in his area many people are turning around and putting that money into land, driving up demand and prices.

At the same time, the uncertainty of Covid-19 prompted investors to seek out stable investments in an otherwise turbulent market. Ag land?—?known for steady, reliable returns?—?has long been a go-to investment for large firms but this last year also saw new people investing in land, says Ray Massey. Massey is an ag economist at the University of Missouri Extension which conducts an annual survey of the ag-land market. Moreover, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to encourage investment, which has made land purchases easier for individuals and investors.

Those individuals are not only rural people. As Covid-19 has redefined the limits of modern work, urban people have reconsidered city living. Nearly 40% of U.S. adults living in urban areas would consider moving to rural areas according to an April 2020 Harris Poll. Rural housing markets around the country have been blown apart by this sudden demand. In parts of rural California, for example, housing prices have increased by an average of 25% since the start of the pandemic. In the small city of Springfield, Missouri, about an hour West of where Dowden lives, housing prices have increased about 11% since May 2020. This demand extended to ag land, especially into what might be called recreational ag land: often hunting grounds or small 40-or-less-acre lots used for lifestyle farming. While the demand has mostly increased within an hour and a half of larger urban areas, this has also pushed up the value of ag land farther out. 

Since people looking for lifestyle or recreational properties ?“are willing to pay more than the agricultural value,” explains Wyatt Fraas, the farm and community assistant director at the Center for Rural Affairs, ?“all the surrounding ag land gets an increase in value.” The phenomenon has pushed up cropland prices across the U.S. in places like IowaOhio, and Missouri.

Not only has the demand for lifestyle properties pushed up the price of ag land, but non-farming people moving into rural areas have also quickened the development of ag land into smaller, lifestyle plots around rural towns. When media outlets hasten to characterize the flight to the country as a revitalization of rural America, they miss this important part of the picture. ?“When newcomers move in and take that land out of production, they actually threaten rather than boost the rural economy,” says Julia Freedgood, co-author of the American Farmland Trust’s Farms Under Threat report.

Small towns afflicted by the real crisis of business and youth-flight can benefit from the arrival of newcomers, but only when the influx does not come at the cost of ?“ag land being split up” and new farmers being driven out of the land market, says Fraas. He explains that while rural towns do need more families?—?for healthy schools, businesses, and communities?—?land developed outside of town is an economic hardship for small towns because it increases demand for services but not tax revenue. Farmland on the other hand, he said, ?“provides a lot of tax income as well as other economic income. Every farm is essentially a small factory that buys lots of goods and services.”

Moreover, in a world flailing in the fight against climate change, low-density rural development is significantly more energy and greenhouse gas intensive than high-density urban core development, Freedgood explains. This is on top of the direct environmental destruction caused by such development, which breaks up animal habitats, damages watersheds and native ecosystems and, ironically, contributes to the spread of infectious disease.

Despite the economic and environmental costs to local communities, the Farms Under Threat report finds that between 2001 and 2016, nearly 7 million acres of farmland were converted to low-density residential (lifestyle) land use. 

And, of course, conversion into housing developments takes ag land out of the market and drives up land prices. The surging price may be good for landowners but it’s ultimately changing who can afford to become a landowner. Abel Dowden’s neighbor saw his property value triple, but this means Dowden, the new farmer, is unlikely to be able to buy his farm. 

Some of the factors driving up farmland prices?—?such as low interest rates and federal stimulus money?—?probably won’t last. The newfound interest in rural living, however, may stick around or even increase. Currently, about 42 million people—mostly in rural America—are without access to broadband internet. Businesses and families alike view poor broadband access as a major detractor of rural living; thus, broadband access is arguably a major factor limiting rural growth. In response, Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes $100 billion for broadband infrastructure. As rural broadband access increases, more people may want to move to rural areas, buy land and build homes, further limiting the availability of affordable farmland. “The future of farming is not farm ownership because the cost of farm ownership is just getting too high.”

Land access is the number one challenge that young farmers and ranchers face, according to the National Young Farmers Coalition, a network of young farmers fighting for the future of agriculture. As traditional farms and ranches continue to struggle with profitability, fewer and fewer retiring farmers are passing their land onto their children. Instead, their land enters the ag-land market, where it is difficult for new farmers to compete with industrial ag operations, investors, and developers. As prices go up, the imbalance of purchasing power intensifies. The Covid-19 uptick in prices and corresponding rise in investment and non-farming purchases is accelerating this long-running trend. Sadly, says McDaris, a banker who often works with farmers on getting loans, ?“the future of farming is not farm ownership because the cost of farm ownership is just getting too high.”

Independent family farms are the ?“key to maintaining a resilient farm sector and healthy rural communities,” reads one of the National Young Farmers Coalition guiding principles. In fact, small-scale farms are vital not only for rural communities but America’s food system at large. The pandemic made this point all too clear as industrial ag produced piles of pig corpses while people waited in line for hours in food bank lines where supplies were running short. The Young Farmers Coalition finds that not only is farmland overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers (according to the USDA, the average age of farmers is 57.5), 98% of farmland is owned by white people; it is imperative that new, young, diverse farmers replace aging farmers, not industrial ag behemoths. 

Some states have policies meant to address farmland development and encourage transition to new generations of farmers. These policies can protect agricultural viability and use zoning laws to control low-density sprawl. For instance, under some state programs?—?which are fairly limited in Missouri but more prevalent in other parts of the United States?—?Dowden might be able to sell an agricultural conservation easement on the land in order to make up part of the higher price. This would help him with the purchase now and ensure that the land is not developed even after he is done farming. Some states have also implemented Farm Link programs that connect land seekers with landowners who want their land to stay in agriculture. If such a program was established in Missouri, it might help young farmers like Dowden gain access to farmland.

According to Freedgood, of the American Farmland Trust, there’s a lot of important work to be done on the local level. ?“Good rural planning is incredibly important,” she says. ?“Not just land use planning but comprehensive planning that supports agriculture and rural economies. If done well, not only will it protect the working landscape, it will enhance community resiliency and food security in the face of climate change.”

For now, beginning farmers like Dowden continue to face an uphill battle, only exacerbated by the Covid storm. McDaris, the Ozark banker, reflects?“It’s not that people wanted it to become this way, I think it’s just the unintended consequences of who we are and what we’ve done.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sadie Morris is a former In These Times editorial intern. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Culture and Politics at Georgetown University with a focus on political economy and the environment.


Share this post

VOTERS SUPPORT HOLDING CORPORATIONS ACCOUNTABLE FOR LABOR CONTRACTING ABUSES

Share this post

Recent polling confirms that voters who live in battleground districts overwhelmingly want their Congressional representatives to hold corporations accountable to the workers who build their business and their wealth. Voters want legislators to make it harder for companies to call workers “independent contractors”; they want lawmakers to discourage companies from contracting with temp and staffing agencies and shedding responsibility for their workers.

Between January 22 and February 1, 2021, Hart Research Associates polled voters in the nation’s 67 most competitive Congressional districts. Across political parties, regions, race, genders, age groups, education levels, and income levels, there is broad understanding that policymakers should address the rampant contracting out of jobs.

Fully 72% of voters are in favor of passing legislation that would “allow workers to hold lead companies legally responsible if their subcontractor fails to make Social Security, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation contributions, or fails to pay workers the wages they are owed according to prevailing minimum wage and overtime laws.” Both white voters (73%) and people of color (70%) support such legislation. Democrats especially favor such legislation (83% support), but both Independents (60%) and Republicans (66%) also endorse legislative action.

Seven in ten voters (70%) believe that eliminating permanent jobs and instead using workers from temporary or staffing agencies is a bad change in the workplace, with a third of voters regarding this as a very bad change.

And by a dramatic 40-point margin, 54% to 14%, voters think that businesses designating more workers as independent contractors, instead of hiring them as employees, is a bad change rather than a good change for the workplace. A strong majority (68%) of battleground voters favors legislation that would make it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors, including increasing the fees and penalties for companies that misclassify employees as independent contractors. Seventy-six percent of voters of color supported the new legislation; 66% of white voters also favored it, as did 79% of Biden voters and 58% of Trump voters.

NELP’s prior research shows that Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American workers are overrepresented in misclassification-prone sectors, such as construction, trucking, delivery, home care, agricultural, personal care, ride-hail, and janitorial and building services, by over 36 percent; they constitute just over a third of workers overall, but between 55 and 86 percent of workers in home care, agricultural, personal care, and janitorial sectors.[1]

NELP’s results come on the heels of polling by McKinsey that finds that contract, freelance, and temporary workers would overwhelmingly prefer to have permanent employment. In particular, people of color stated a strong preference for stable jobs. Together, the two polls make clear that excluding certain workers from labor protections—exclusions that are rooted in white supremacy and segregation—has profound implications for racial justice.

The poll results make clear that lawmakers should resist efforts by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart, and others to gain special exemptions from foundational labor rights, both across the states and in intense lobbying to gain special exemptions from federal legislation known as the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—which, if passed, would be the most consequential expansion of the right to organize that workers have seen in decades. These businesses and others that make up the misleadingly named “Coalition for Workforce Innovation” are attempting to convince lawmakers that workers prefer being relegated to second-class status. The polling data shows that these claims are false.

…people across the country are demanding that their elected representatives ensure that foundational labor rights apply to all people who work for a living, and that foundational obligations apply to businesses that contract out.

Instead, people across the country are demanding that their elected representatives ensure that foundational labor rights apply to all people who work for a living, and that foundational obligations apply to businesses that contract out. NELP applauds efforts by the Biden administrationCongressmembers, and policymakers in states and cities who are working towards this goal.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on June 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Smith is the director of the Work Structures Portfolio at NELP. She joined NELP in 2000, after nearly 20 years advocating for migrant farm workers in Washington State.


Share this post

The Leadership Struggle In One of California’s Most Powerful Unions Just Keeps Getting Weirder

Share this post

Hamilton Nolan - In These Times

Accusations of cheating, chicanery and violent retaliation dog the SEIU Local 1000 election. The consequences for labor are very real.

Even by the chaotic standards of the past year, the story of SEIU Local 1000 stands out for its bizarreness. One of the most politically powerful unions in California, representing nearly 100,000 state employees, announced last month that its longtime president, Yvonne Walker, had lost an election to a gadfly named Richard Louis Brown, who ran on a platform of ending the union’s (substantial) political donations, which made him an instant right-wing media darling. Now, the election is beset with allegations of misconduct and dangerous retaliation, while Brown positions himself as a truthteller under attack?—?but the union’s future has never been more uncertain. 

What we know for sure is this: Brown, an employee of the state treasurer’s office who had twice before run unsuccessfully for a leadership position, won the SEIU Local 1000 presidential election on May 24 with only 33% of the vote. Walker, who had led the union since 2008, received 27%, and three other challengers split the rest. Only 7,880 ballots were cast. Therefore the union’s entire approach to how it wields power for tens of thousands of members may be upended by about 500 votes. 

The drama was only beginning. Brown, it turned out, had publicly offered to pay the dues of members so that they could vote in the election. Though he says that no one took him up on it, the outcome of the election was challenged, and a ?“protest committee” inside the union will render a decision before the end of June. The makeup of that committee is controlled by Yvonne Walker, the person who lost to Brown, and who still has a couple of weeks left in office. Now, all sides of the election are simultaneously suspicious?—?some believing that Brown cheated, and others believing that Walker and her allies are conspiring to roll back Brown’s victory. Walker herself is not an uncontroversial leader. An essay in Strikewave last week by Jonah Paul, a rank and file member of SEIU 1000, characterized Walker as a ?“centrist, politically shrewd, and utterly tyrannical” president who used bureaucratic maneuvering to consolidate power in her own hands and systematically push out rivals, to the detriment of members and morale. 

Immediately after his election, Brown received a rash of media attention when he said that he would not offer the union’s backing to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall attempt. But the platform that Brown is planning to implement offers much more frightening promises for labor movement traditionalists. He vows to zero out spending on electoral politics, which would be a major blow to the California Democratic Party. And he says he will cut member dues in half, and allow members who do not pay dues at all (enabled by the 2018 Supreme Court Janus ruling, which allowed public employees to opt out of financial support for their unions) to vote in union elections?—?setting up the potential of both a dramatic drop in income for the union, and a political takeover by conservative, anti-union membership. Already, Brown’s election has been celebrated in the Wall Street JournalFox News, and by the Koch-funded anti-union Freedom Foundation, a good indication that he is already being held up by conservatives as that rare creature: A union president who is a hero of right wing, anti-labor institutions. 

But Brown, whose Trumpian tics include exclamation point-laden prose and ominous questions about vaccines, has more immediate concerns on his mind. In an interview on Monday, he said that on May 25, the day after his victory was announced, Sacramento police showed up at his house at 5 a.m., after an anonymous person called them with a report of a woman screaming. Brown, who lives alone, says he believes this incident was ?“retaliation against me for winning this election,” and was a serious threat to his safety. 

“If they swear me in, I’m going to go on national TV and give interviews to anybody that wants to know the truth about the corruption of this union that I belong to,” he said. ?“I have no confidence in my union at all. My life could have been taken from me… I’m concerned for my life. That’s what I’m concerned for right now.” 

The Sacramento Police Department confirmed that the call occurred: ?“On May 25, 2021 at approximately 5:02 a.m., the Sacramento Police Department responded to a reported call for service in the 3200 block of 43rd Street. The unidentified caller stated that they heard a possible disturbance inside of a residence on the street. Officers checked the residence and determined that there was no disturbance and the call appeared to be unfounded.” They added, however, that the false call appeared to be part of a pattern. ?“The department has also received at least two other calls of similar circumstances for other residences within this area, and on different streets. These calls have occurred over the last few weeks.”

“You know Breonna Taylor lost her life. And here I am, helping people… and I could have lost my life over this,” Brown said of the police incident. ?“Local 1000 needs to stop playing these games with me. The Sacramento Police Department needs to investigate who made that call against me.”

The police department said ?“These incidents have been documented in a report and the department has not identified any specific intended victims of these unfounded calls for service at this time. The department will continue to investigate any further incidents that occur to determine if there is a connection between them.” Yvonne Walker said in an interview that she did not know anything about the incident. (Brown and Walker are both Black.)

Discussing his platform, Brown called the requirement that only dues-payers vote in elections, which is standard procedure in most unions, a ?“poll tax,” and likened it to laws that oppressed Black voters in the past. He said his preference would be to see the end of exclusive representation?—?the requirement that unions represent everyone in a workplace whether they pay dues or not?—?but barring that, he would like to see non-payers be able to vote. Such a policy would allow union politics to be controlled, at least in part, by the people most hostile to the union. Brown said he has ?“no connection” to the Freedom Foundation or any other anti-labor group. 

“A union, when they can automatically control your wages and working conditions, they could care less about how you feel. And this is the case with Local 1000,” Brown said. Some members of the union are living paycheck to paycheck, and would be better served if the union stopped spending money on politics, slashed their dues, and built a strike fund to help it wield power via strike threats rather than political donations. ?“As long as our union spends more than 50 percent on politics, to the Democratic Party, they’re alienating half the union, and this is why they cannot raise their membership. And this is why I got elected.”

Such a policy would also have major implications for the most politically active national union in America. ?“We have to stop our political spending,” Brown says. ?“Does that mean we have to end our affiliation with SEIU? I would probably say yes.”

Opponents see this theory of how to gain power as, at best, naïve?—?particularly for a union of state employees. ?“It’s incredibly important [to be involved in politics], especially for public service workers. Our bosses are politicians,” said Yvonne Walker. ?“If we’re not having a voice in electing the people that share the same values that we do, that is a very grave mistake.”

Likewise, she said that Local 1000 would regret any decision not to support Gavin Newsom against the recall effort. ?“We have traveled this road before. We saw what happened after Gray Davis got recalled [in 2003],” she said. ?“We went through the loss of some things that people thought were just automatic. And they weren’t. And I would hate to see us in that place again.”

Walker said she was proud of accomplishments like putting the union on a sound financial footing, buying a headquarters building, expanding apprenticeship programs, and guiding the union through the aftermath of the 2008 recession. She rejected the criticisms raised in the Strikewave story, saying she would not have done anything differently during her time in office to increase union democracy or to further encourage more members to vote in elections. And she voiced hopes that whoever succeeds her will make strong efforts to lock in the newfound flexible work arrangements that employees have been able to try out during the pandemic. But, she said, she will not be around to lead those efforts, no matter what happens.

For now, the fate of nearly 100,000 union members faces a maddening level of unpredictability. Pending the outcome of the union’s election review, control could pass to Brown, who would lead the organization down a radical conservative path, or the election could be run again, adding even more uncertainty as to what the future would hold. The only certainty is that whatever happens, the losing factions will feel cheated and full of distrust. It is an ominous set of ingredients for decisions that will profoundly affect members, their families and the labor movement as a whole?—?not to mention the electoral politics of the nation’s most populous state.

The only person who seems to have achieved some level of peace is Yvonne Walker herself, who does not believe that Brown’s plans will ever come to fruition. ?“It’s easy to make pronouncements,” she said dismissively, ?“when you don’t know how things work.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 15, 2021. 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.


Share this post

Striking ATI Steelworkers Hold the Line for Premium-Free Health Insurance

Share this post

General President Peter Knowlton to Retire (but Stay Active in the Union) |  UE

Across the country, steelworkers at nine plants of Allegheny Technologies, Inc. have been on strike for the last 11 weeks.

They want raises; to stop contracting out; to secure full funding of their retirement benefits; and to beat back management’s efforts to introduce health insurance premiums and a second tier of coverage for younger workers.

The Steelworkers union (USW) accuses ATI of unfair labor practices including bad faith bargaining, and of holding retiree benefits hostage for contract concessions.

ATI, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, makes steel used in aerospace and defense, oil and gas, chemical processes, and electrical energy generation.

Five years ago ATI locked workers out for seven months, demanding major concessions on wages, pensions, and health insurance. Workers fought off the bulk of those demands, though the company was able to shed future liability for the pension by replacing it with a 401(k) for anyone hired after 2015—a huge cost shift to workers that makes a decent retirement at age 65 unlikely for new hires.

There were 2,200 workers at 12 unionized sites back then. There are 1,300 at nine sites this time around.

Most of the shops are in areas still reeling from the deindustrialization of the ’80s and ’90s. Five are in western Pennsylvania: Canton Township, Brackenridge, Latrobe, Natrona Heights, and Vandergrift. The others are in Louisville, Ohio; Lockport, New York; East Hartford, Connecticut; and New Bedford, Massachusetts, where 60 members are on strike.

MANUFACTURING DESCENT

One of only a few remaining union manufacturers in southeast Massachusetts, ATI has long been seen as a place to earn decent pay and a respectable retirement.

As a young organizer with the United Electrical Workers (UE) in the ’80s and early ’90s I spent many mornings and afternoons leafleting at the ATI plant in New Bedford—then called Rodney Metals, before it was eventually bought out by ATI—and other shops in the area, encouraging workers to organize. (I like to think we helped lay the groundwork for the USW’s eventual success in the mid-’90s.)

Back then there were thousands and thousands of decently paid union workers in manufacturing, and those union shops drove the area rates and standards. The spillover effect was real. Non-union employers like Rodney Metals were “forced” to pay similar rates and conditions in order to compete for workers.

Those days are gone. Like many places throughout the country, southeast Massachusetts lost thousands of manufacturing jobs—union and nonunion—during the Reagan era of greed, union-busting, and moving jobs to lower-wage, nonunion locations (sometimes overseas, but not always). UE lost close to 2,000 members in southeast Massachusetts in less than a decade.

Some of the more innovative and militant strategies to fight plant closings were developed from the struggles of these workers to defend and preserve manufacturing jobs in hard-hit industrial New England.

Now, with the pension replaced by a 401(k) and after seven years of wage freezes, working at ATI—or in manufacturing generally—is not such a great deal anymore. Factory work in the area is now pretty much all nonunion, and most places pay less and provide fewer benefits than they did 20 years ago.

Plus, anyone who has worked in a factory knows the toll the work takes on your body and soul. The camaraderie can be great, but the brutal pace of work in an unhealthy environment is unrelenting. Your body slowly unravels and falls apart.

FLUSH WITH CASH

Now ATI is demanding to gut the benefits of present and future workers even further, which will further erode the living standards of the area. To sell its offers, the company points to wage increases and lump sum payments—but, as the union has pointed out, these are all based on savings generated from other concessionary proposals.

Meanwhile, the company has almost “a billion dollars in liquidity and more than half a billion dollars in the cash drawer,” according to a strike bulletin from the union. The three top executives made $22 million last year in salaries and an additional $17 million in bonuses.

The average hourly rate for production workers is only in the mid-$20s per hour, with the lowest-paying job around $22. Lots of maintenance work has been subcontracted, especially since the last contract. Presently to contract out work the company simply has to notify the union and engage in a discussion; if it doesn’t, the company pays a penalty to a local charity.

These “notification” requirements have done little to stop the company from decimating the maintenance department. But even this weak arrangement isn’t enough for ATI. It wants no accountability or discussion with the union about keeping maintenance work in-house, and it continues to propose eliminating arbitration over even the minimal requirement to give notice.

A PREMIUM ON HEALTH INSURANCE

This strike is in large measure over health insurance. In a sea of non-union workplaces with unaffordable health plans, ATI workers are striking to keep their plan affordable to members.

Presently the company pays the entire health insurance premium—workers were able to stave off ATI’s efforts to force them to pay premiums during the 2015-16 lockout. Workers have an upfront deductible that is 10 percent of first-dollar coverage up to $300 for an individual and $600 for a family per year. If you go outside the network, it is double those figures.

ATI now wants workers to pay 5 percent of the premium and increase the deductible to $500 for an individual and $1,000 for a family. What the company is really after, however, are the new hires: the company wants them to pay 10 percent of their premiums. It’s the typical and divisive two-tier system that unions know all too well.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which researches and publishes national health insurance data and conducts annual surveys on employer-provided health insurance, says that in 1999 the average annual premium was $2,196 for single plans and $5,791 for family plans. Twenty years later those figures have skyrocketed by 240 percent and 269 percent, respectively, to $7,470 for individuals and $21,342 for families.

Employers still contribute the majority of that, but workers now pay an average of $5,588 in premiums alone for family coverage (up from $1,543 in 1999), not to mention the increased share of other medical costs they bear. Wages over that same period have increased, on average, only 77 percent.

A BENCHMARK FOR ALL

Up until the 1980s, when the health insurance industry and employers began imposing premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and other schemes to gobble up more of our paychecks, fully employer-paid health insurance was not uncommon at all.

Those union workplaces that have been able to maintain that standard help all of us—not just their members. They set a benchmark for the wages and benefits that other employers in the same industry or geographic area need to provide to stay “competitive.” They influence what workers and the local community expect a job to offer.

When a benefit is allowed to erode over time, so does the standard. Seeing these workers at ATI fighting to defend premium-free health insurance, something most unions have lost, is inspiring.

“I am proud of my fellow brothers and sisters on the line,” said Bedford ATI worker John Camarao, the grievance chair for USW Local 1357. “Members are in a great hardship right now entering the third month of the strike, but what we’re fighting for is not only for our future but for the future of new hires and our retirees’ benefits.

“Their demands are meant to divide us, but instead they have united us, and our resolve is to see this to the end.”

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Peter Knowlton is the retired general president of the United Electrical Workers (UE).


Share this post

Unemployment Benefits Protect Seasonal Workers

Share this post

Sheila Regan (@Sheila_Regan) | Twitter

The Wisconsin state legislature wants to slash unemployment benefits. Seasonal workers rely on that money as job opportunities fluctuate throughout the year.

This article is part of The Wisconsin Idea, an investigative reporting initiative focused on rural Wisconsin.

Troy Brewer was pleased when the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs this year, and not just because he’s a big fan of the basketball team. 

Brewer works as a cook in Fiserv Forum, the arena where the Bucks play. He’s been there since the arena opened in 2018, and helped start a union there in the same year, the Fiserv Forum and Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH). The union’s contract ensures that Brewer and his coworkers make at least a $15 wage, and because of Brewer’s seniority, he’s at the top of the list whenever there’s work. 

But after the playoffs, the work schedule gets a little light. 

“I’m most definitely worried,” Brewer said. ?“Recently, we have emails saying we don’t have a schedule set for July, like there might not be any work.”

The backup for Brewer and workers like him, who work in fields that haven’t fully returned from the pandemic, is unemployment insurance.

Back in March of 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which in addition to other relief measures, supplemented the state’s unemployment benefits by $600 a week, a number which was halved in January. In March 2021, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which continued the $300 supplement, set to expire on September 6. Since then, 25 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have announced their intention to stop accepting the federal subsidy. 

In Wisconsin, the legislature has voted to reinstate work search requirements for people receiving unemployment insurance, and declined Governor Evers’ proposal to add $15 million to the state’s unemployment system, as well as a proposal to add $28 million to worker training programs. Meanwhile, Republicans in the legislature have made moves to eliminate the $300 supplement from the federal government for UI. “It’s hard times out here right now, especially for the people in our work.”

Governor Tony Evers has questioned the logic that ending additional unemployment insurance would solve the labor shortage problem in the state, which predates the pandemic. ?“We had trouble finding people to come to work before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after the pandemic,” he told the press on June 1. ?“I just feel confident that the people that are receiving unemployment compensation with an unemployment rate now that is similar to before the pandemic, need those resources to live on,” he said. 

But so far, the Governor hasn’t stated definitively that he would veto the Republican measure. ?“I will take a look at it,” he said when asked whether he would veto the bill. 

Brewer, who has two kids at home, says that he needs that extra boost. He just found out that his landlord is selling his house, so on top of everything, he has to find a new place to live. ?“It’s a good thing we do still get unemployment to help us stand a little better than what we usually would.” 

Lauren Stevens, another worker at the arena, feels a similar anxiety. Stevens is a retired educator, and has used her job doing concessions to make ends meet. The basketball season starts up again in the fall, so after the Bucks’ playoff run, there won’t be work again until the new season. Stevens and other workers will be able to use unemployment benefits until then, but only if the legislature doesn’t cut off the federal supplement. 

“I’m concerned?—?reason being I’m retired, on social security and this is a part time position for myself,” Stevens said. ?“I’m a little concerned with this gap.” 

Much of the discourse around getting rid of unemployment insurance centers around the notion that the benefit discourages people from returning to work. That conclusion isn’t born out in research on the subject, though. In ?“A Short Review of Recent Evidence on the Disincentive Effects of Unemployment Insurance and New Evidence from New York State, University of Chicago professors, who studied an increase in unemployment insurance in New York, found only a slight propensity for people on UI to continue benefits when they increased.

More recently, a study by a group of Yale economists found that there was no evidence that the $600 a week benefit provided by the CARES Act disincentivized people from returning to work. 

“Unemployment rates in Wisconsin don’t support the overdrawn and quite dramatic, self serving conclusion that there are a bunch of people sitting on the sidelines who are ready to go to go to work in otherwise low wage, no benefit, insecure, crappy jobs if $300 a week, supplemental unemployment benefits were eliminated,” said Peter Rickman, president of MASH. At the same time, Rickman sees the current economic landscape as an opportunity for workers. ?“The way the labor market is constructed right now is such that the balance of power instead of being wholly and entirely in favor of the boss class, has had a slight tipping towards the working class,” he said. 

Senator Melissa Agard (D?16th District) argues that cutting UI won’t put people back to work as much as it would harm struggling families. ?“It’s really unfortunate that my Republican colleagues in Wisconsin are continuing down the same path that they were on pre-pandemic: making it harder for people to be able to get ahead and take care of themselves and their families,” Agard told In These Times. ?“Folks are having a hard time finding people for jobs primarily because they’re not paying people a living wage, or respectable wage to do those jobs.”

Agard feels concerned the pandemic has only exacerbated the wealth gap that was in place before COVID-19 hit. ?“In my opinion, we should be learning about how it is that supporting people actually provides them with a step up for themselves and their families in our future,” she said. 

For Debbie Steidl, who normally does stagehand work for touring Broadway shows at the Marcus Performing Art Center (PAC) in Milwaukee, the end of the expanded unemployment benefits won’t necessarily spell financial doom. That’s in part because years in the business as a union member, and support from family and friends, left her in a good position to make it through the pandemic year.

In addition to other theater work, Steidl, who is a member of IATSE Local 18, had been in show business for 35 years when theaters across the country closed down due to the pandemic, bringing her work to a screeching halt in March 2020.

“I just reached the point on my seniority level where I have steady income, where I can actually plan things and all of a sudden, the rug is pulled out from under me,” Steidl recalled. ?“I was very angry.”

Fortunately, the PAC had just put on a showing of The Lion King, so she lived off the income she made from that last show before hunkering down. 

Since the shutdown, Steidl has gone to work for a few events, such as the Democratic National Convention. ?“There were little bits here and there, jobs not enough to support myself, but enough to keep me interested in my job,” she said. When not taking short-term gigs when they come, Steidl has taken unemployment, but she feels optimistic about her financial situation as theater begins to come back later this season. 

“Some of the riggers and foreman of the Union are already going into the Summerfest grounds,” Steidl said. ?“We just had a union meeting a couple days ago, and they said that things are going to start looking up, like towards the end of July and August. So we’re being hopeful.”

On June 9, the Wisconsin legislature voted to end contracts for federal employment benefits beginning the earliest week the measure is passed. That depends on Evers signing the bill. 

As for Brewer, he has hope, but the crisis is not over. ?“It’s hard times out here right now, especially for the people in our work,” he said. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: SHEILA REGAN is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She has covered news for the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Salon, as well as the Sahan Journal, The Uptake, and other publications. She also
writes about the arts.


Share this post

OSHA Issues Emergency Rule for Healthcare Employers and Updates Guidance for Other Employers

Share this post

On January 21, 2021, one day after his inauguration, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to consider issuing a broad emergency temporary standard (ETS) on COVID-19 in the workplace.  But because COVID-19 cases have decreased significantly since January, on June 10, 2021, OSHA issued an ETS applicable to healthcare employers only.  For other employers, like those in manufacturing, construction, and retail, the agency simply updated its existing voluntary guidance.

Healthcare Employers

The ETS mandates virus protections in healthcare workplaces, defined as “all settings where any employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services,” with several exceptions.  OSHA published a flow chart to help employers determine if they are covered by the ETS.  Where a healthcare setting is embedded in a non-healthcare facility, such as a medical clinic located in a manufacturing plant or retail store, the ETS applies only to the embedded healthcare setting and not to the remainder of the physical location.  The ETS does not apply to the provision of first aid by an employee who is not a licensed healthcare provider.

Some of the key requirements of the new rule for covered employers are to:

  • Develop a COVID-19 plan (in writing for employers with more than 10 employees) that includes designation of a safety coordinator, a workplace-specific hazard assessment, and policies and procedures to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to employees.
  • Limit and monitor points of entry to settings where direct patient care is provided; screen and triage patients, clients, and other visitors and non-employees; and implement patient management strategies.
  • Provide and ensure each employee wears a facemask when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with other people for work purposes; provide and ensure employees use respirators and other personal protective equipment during exposure to people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and for aerosol-generating procedures on a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
  • Keep people at least 6 feet apart when indoors.
  • Install cleanable or disposable physical barriers at each fixed work location in non-patient care areas where employees are not separated from other people by at least 6 feet.
  • Follow standard practices for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and equipment in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in patient care areas, resident rooms, and for medical devices and equipment; in all other areas, clean high-touch surfaces and equipment at least once a day and provide alcohol-based hand rub that is at least 60% alcohol or provide readily accessible handwashing facilities.
  • Ensure that employer-owned or controlled existing HVAC systems are used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and design specifications for the systems, and that air filters are rated Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 or higher if the system allows it.
  • Provide reasonable time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects.

The ETS exempts fully vaccinated employees from the facemask, physical distance, and barrier requirements in well-defined areas if the employer determines there is no reasonable expectation that another person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.

The ETS could take effect within days.  Once it goes into effect, covered employers must comply with most of the requirements within 14 days, but they will have 30 days to comply with requirements that could require physical changes to workspaces and buildings, like those involving barriers and ventilation.  The emergency rule will be limited to a duration of six months.

Pending adoption of the ETS in state plan states like South Carolina and North Carolina that have not enacted their own COVID-19 standards, employers can expect state OSHA agencies to take the requirements of the ETS into account in determining whether employers are complying with the General Duty Clause (GDC).  The GDC, in effect, requires employers to provide a safe workplace for employees.  State plan states must adopt standards that are “at least as effective” as OSHA’s.

Other Employers

On June 10, 2021, OSHA also updated its previously issued COVID-19 guidance applicable to all employers by adding references to the CDC’s recent recommendations for fully vaccinated people and addressing how to protect workers who are unvaccinated or are otherwise deemed to be at high risk of infection or serious illness.

According to the updated guidance, employers not covered by the ETS should consider implementing “multi-layered interventions” to protect workers, including:

  • “Grant[ing] paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.”
  • “Instruct[ing] infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and all workers with symptoms to stay home.”
  • “Implement[ing] physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal areas.”
  • “Provid[ing] unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE.”
  • “Educat[ing] and train[ing] workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in language they understand.”
  • “Suggest[ing] that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings.”
  • “Maintain[ing] ventilation systems.”
  • “Perform[ing] routine cleaning and disinfection.”
  • “Follow[ing] other applicable mandatory OSHA standards.”

Whether covered by the ETS or the updated guidance, employers should review the latest information from OSHA and make any necessary adjustments in their compliance programs.

This blog originally appeared at Nexsen Pruet on June 11, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Dubberly is an award-winning attorney who chairs Nexsen Pruet’s Employment and Labor Law Group and co-chairs the firm’s International Law Team. 

 


Share this post

There Is No Labor Shortage, Only Labor Exploitation

Share this post

Bio – Sonali Kolhatkar

Conservatives and corporate employers are weaving an insidious web of myths, lies and exaggerations to justify maintaining low-wage jobs.

For the past few months, Republicans have been waging a ferocious political battle to end federal unemployment benefits, based upon stated desires of saving the U.S. economy from a serious labor shortage. The logic, in the words of Republican politicians like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, goes like this: “the government pays folks more to stay home than to go to work,” and therefore, “[p]aying people not to work is not helpful.” The conservative Wall Street Journal has been beating the drum for the same argument, saying recently that it was a “terrible blunder” to pay jobless benefits to unemployed workers.

If the hyperbolic claims are to be believed, one might imagine American workers are luxuriating in the largesse of taxpayer-funded payments, thumbing their noses at the earnest “job creators” who are taking far more seriously the importance of a post-pandemic economic growth spurt.

It is true that there are currently millions of jobs going unfilled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released statistics showing that there were 9.3 million job openings in April and that the percentage of layoffs decreased while resignations increased. Taking these statistics at face value, one could conclude this means there is a labor shortage.

But, as economist Heidi Shierholz explained in a New York Times op-ed, there is only a labor shortage if employers raise wages to match worker demands and subsequently still face a shortage of workers. Shierholz wrote, “When those measures [of raising wages] don’t result in a substantial increase in workers, that’s a labor shortage. Absent that dynamic, you can rest easy.”

Remember the subprime mortgage housing crisis of 2008 when economists and pundits blamed low-income homeowners for wanting to purchase homes they could not afford? Perhaps this is the labor market’s way of saying, if you can’t afford higher salaries, you shouldn’t expect to fill jobs.

Or, to use the logic of another accepted capitalist argument, employers could liken the job market to the surge pricing practices of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. After consumers complained about hiked-up prices for rides during rush hour, Uber explained, “With surge pricing, Uber rates increase to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. When enough cars are on the road, prices go back down to normal levels.” Applying this logic to the labor market, workers might be saying to employers: “When enough dollars are being offered in wages, the number of job openings will go back down to normal levels.” In other words, workers are surge-pricing the cost of their labor.

But corporate elites are loudly complaining that the sky is falling—not because of a real labor shortage, but because workers are less likely now to accept low-wage jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists that “[t]he worker shortage is real,” and that it has risen to the level of a “national economic emergency” that “poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.” In the Chamber’s worldview, workers, not corporate employers who refuse to pay better, are the main obstacle to the U.S.’s economic recovery.

Longtime labor organizer and senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies Bill Fletcher Jr. explained to me in an email interview that claims of a labor shortage are an exaggeration and that, actually, “we suffered a minor depression and not another great recession,” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Fletcher’s view, “The so-called labor shortage needs to be understood as the result of tremendous employment reorganization, including the collapse of industries and companies.”

Furthermore, according to Fletcher, the purveyors of the “labor shortage” myth are not accounting for “the collapse of daycare and the impact on women and families, and a continued fear associated with the pandemic.”

He’s right. As one analyst put it, “The rotten seed of America’s disinvestment in child care has finally sprouted.” Such factors have received little attention by the purveyors of the labor shortage myth—perhaps because acknowledging real obstacles like care work requires thinking of workers as real human beings rather than cogs in a capitalist machine.

Indeed, economists and analysts have gotten used to presenting facts from the perspective of private employers and their lobbyists. The American public is expected to sympathize more with the plight of wealthy business owners who can’t find workers to fill their low-paid positions, instead of with unemployed workers who might be struggling to make ends meet.

Already, jobless benefits were slashed to appallingly low levels after Republicans reduced a $600-a-week payment authorized by the CARES Act to a mere $300 a week, which works out to $7.50 an hour for full-time work. If companies cannot compete with this exceedingly paltry sum, their position is akin to a customer demanding to a car salesperson that they have the right to buy a vehicle for a below-market-value sticker price (again, capitalist logic is a worthwhile exercise to showcase the ludicrousness of how lawmakers and their corporate beneficiaries are responding to the state of the labor market).

Remarkably, although federal jobless benefits are funded through September 2021, more than two dozen Republican-run states are choosing to end them earlier. Not only will this impact the bottom line for millions of people struggling to make ends meet, but it will also undermine the stimulus impact that this federal aid has on the economies of states when jobless workers spend their federal dollars on necessities. Conservatives are essentially engaged in an ideological battle over government benefits, which, in their view, are always wrong unless they are going to the already privileged (remember the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy?).

The GOP has thumbed its nose at federal benefits for residents before. In order to underscore their ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act, recall how Republican governors eschewed billions of federal dollars to fund Medicaid expansion. These conservative ideologues chose to let their own voters suffer the consequences of turning down federal aid in service of their political opposition to Obamacare. And they’re doing the same thing now.

At the same time as headlines are screaming about a catastrophic worker shortage that could undermine the economy, stories abound of how American billionaires paid peanuts in income taxes according to newly released documents, even as their wealth multiplied to extraordinary levels. The obscenely wealthy are spending their mountains of cash on luxury goods and fulfilling childish fantasies of space travel. The juxtaposition of such a phenomenon alongside the conservative claim that jobless benefits are too generous is evidence that we are indeed in a “national economic emergency”—just not of the sort that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants us to believe.

West Virginia’s Republican Governor Jim Justice justified ending federal jobless benefits early in his state by lecturing his residents on how, “America is all about work. That’s what has made this great country.” Interestingly, Justice owns a resort that couldn’t find enough low-wage workers to fill jobs. Notwithstanding a clear conflict of interest in cutting jobless benefits, the Republican politician is now enjoying the fruits of his own political actions as his resort reports greater ease in filling positions with desperate workers whose lifeline he cut off.

When lawmakers earlier this year debated the Raise the Wage Act, which would have increased the federal minimum wage, Republicans wagged their fingers in warning, saying higher wages would put companies out of business. Opponents of that failed bill claimed that if forced to pay $15 an hour, employers would hire fewer people, close branches, or perhaps shut down altogether, which we were told would ultimately hurt workers.

Now, we are being told another story: that companies actually do need workers and won’t simply reduce jobs, close branches, or shut down and that the government therefore needs to stop competing with their ultra-low wages to save the economy. The claim that businesses would no longer be profitable if they are forced to increase wages is undermined by one multibillion-dollar fact: corporations are raking in record-high profits and doling them out to shareholders and executives. They can indeed afford to offer greater pay, and when they do, it turns out there is no labor shortage.

American workers are at a critically important juncture at this moment. Corporate employers seem to be approaching a limit of how far they can push workers to accept poverty-level jobs. According to Fletcher, “This moment provides opportunities to raise wage demands, but it must be a moment where workers organize in order to sustain and pursue demands for improvements in their living and working conditions.”

This blog originally appeared at Independent Media Institute on , June 11, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.


Share this post

HISTORIC FIX TO NEW YORK’S PART-TIME UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM A WIN FOR WORKERS; BOOSTS NEW YORK’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY BY ENCOURAGING RETURN TO WORK

Share this post

NEW YORK, June 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — This week, New York’s legislature and Governor Cuomo announced a historic deal to fix the state’s worst-in-the-nation unemployment insurance rules for part-time work that were disproportionately hurting low-and-moderate income workers, especially Black and Brown workers, and holding back New York’s economic recovery. Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe championed this long overdue reform.

Unlike in virtually all other states, New York’s unemployment insurance rules arbitrarily and sharply reduce an individual’s benefits when they return to work part-time a few hours a day spread over several days. The poorly designed policy unduly complicates decision-making by employers and workers considering a partial return to work, hurting hundreds of thousands of part-time workers across the state.

The new pair of measures (S7148 and S1042), collectively revamp New York’s partial unemployment system so that it reduces benefits based on earnings the worker receives from part-time employment, rather than the arbitrary days-worked approach. Currently, the system disincentivizes part-time work by taking away almost all unemployment benefits when a person works just a few hours per week spread out over three or four days.

The new law also establishes an earnings disregard equal to one-half of a worker’s weekly UI benefit. It puts New York on a par with its five neighboring states and a total of thirteen states nationally and the District of Columbia, which all provide for comparable or more generous partial unemployment benefits. The reform especially reduces the heavy burden on part-time workers whose hours are spread over three or four days per week.

In addition, the law requires New York State’s Department of Labor to implement an immediate interim fix by allowing workers to work up to 10 hours a week without reduction in part-time unemployment benefits, up from the current 4 hours. The full reforms implemented in the new law are scheduled to take effect by April 2022.

This historic reform is a meaningful step for New York economic recovery and for the 600,000 workers who currently receive part-time unemployment benefits. More than two-thirds of recipients come from low-and moderate-income industries including accommodations, food services, healthcare, social assistance, and retail and more than half are workers in Black and Brown communities.

“Making critical updates to New York State’s antiquated Partial Unemployment Insurance system is a huge win for working families across our state. By changing the way we calculate eligibility we are ensuring New Yorkers who are working part-time or being called back to work at reduced hours can do so knowing that they will be able to provide for their families no matter how many days and hours of work they are offered each week,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“For far too long, New York’s unemployment insurance benefits wrongfully penalized claimants seeking part-time work,” said Assemblymember Al Stirpe, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. “These arbitrary regulations have made it incredibly difficult for many part-time workers to make ends meet. After the significant challenges of the pandemic, our state should not have a system with a disincentive to part-time work built in. Instead we should have a system that helps our families get back on their feet and encourages economic recovery and growth.”

“Central to New York’s recovery is getting people back to work,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Expanding and increasing part-time unemployment insurance benefits will encourage New Yorkers to seek out and secure meaningful part-time work, while ensuring their income is supplemented appropriately to help them get back on their feet. This legislation passed by the New York State Senate Majority stands up for working-class New Yorkers whose hours were cut due to the pandemic or who were left unemployed and will help them in returning to the workforce. I thank Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe for championing this critical legislation, which will support New York’s economic recovery.”

“My colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority believe in putting New York families first and we know that unemployment benefits are a lifeline for families, especially during this health and economic crisis,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Many workers have faced a reduction in their hours or are only able to find part-time work, and this legislation ensures that they can take that work without losing their unemployment benefits. This change is critical as families and businesses work to get back on their feet. I would also like to thank Assemblymember Al Stirpe for commitment to getting this bill across the finish line.”

“Throughout the pandemic, New York’s stingy partial unemployment rule has been denying urgently needed benefits to workers whose hours have been cut — and now that the pandemic is easing it’s punishing workers who return to work part-time. NELP thanks Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the legislative leadership for championing this long overdue common-sense reform, and Governor Cuomo for supporting it,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director at the National Employment Law Project.

“Our research makes it clear that the reform will benefit both the unemployed, incentivizing them to take on part-time work and moderately increase their total income, and employers and the economy overall, supporting a return to work that helps businesses and allows workers to keep their skills current and mitigating the adverse effects of prolonged periods of high unemployment,” said James Parrott, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policies at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

“With the passage of this legislation, New York State moves from one of the worst to one of the best states for part-time workers supporting the most vulnerable and essential workers in our economy. This new system allows more part-time workers to collect unemployment at a time when they need it the most,” said Nicole Salk, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Services NYC.

“New York has transformed an outdated and unfair part-time Unemployment Insurance system to the benefit of our clients and all hard-working New Yorkers who will no longer be penalized for obtaining part-time work. We applaud State Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for their leadership on this important reform,” said Young Lee, Director of the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society of NYC.

“With the majority of partially unemployed workers being low and moderate income workers who are disproportionately people of color, this long overdue reform to the unemployment insurance system will help reduce material hardship for people who want to return to work. We are grateful for the leadership demonstrated by Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the Governor in making this vital reform a reality,” said Jason Cone, Chief Public Policy Officer of Robin Hood.

“We are proud to be part of the coalition that fought for and won big improvements for New York’s unemployed workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Many non-essential retail workers were laid off during the pandemic and are returning to what are now part-time jobs. These workers and countless others will now be able to return to work part-time without losing their entire unemployment benefit. As a result of the leadership of Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe, New York will have a faster economic recovery from the pandemic and tens of thousands of unemployed workers will be able to get back to work and still provide for their families.”

“As a statewide legal services organization, we handle many cases where a worker inadvertently loses all of their benefits simply by working a few extra hours.  The effect of the cliff is devastating and unfair. We applaud Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe and the Governor for implementing this historic reform,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of the Empire Justice Center.  

“This historic legislation will benefit thousands of New Yorkers who seek to sustain themselves during this time of economic uncertainty, while also creating a more economically just unemployment system for the future. NCLEJ applauds Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for supporting low-wage workers and passing this bill,” said Jarron McAllister, Penn Law Fellow at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

“As an organizing project centered around the impacts of COVID, we believe that passing this bill will greatly improve New York State’s recovery, including getting people back to work. We thank Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and all of the legislative leadership for their work on this bill and for Governor Cuomo for signing it,” said Paul Getsos, Project Director of United Together Stronger Tomorrow.

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on June 10, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: For 50 years, NELP has sought to ensure that America upholds, for all workers, the promise of opportunity and economic security through work. NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and unemployed workers.


Share this post

Don’t Just Send People Money During a Pandemic—Do It All the Time

Share this post

Universal Income Project Leadership - Universal Income Project

The evidence is in: Sending out direct cash payments has been a full-blown success—and we can’t afford to stop.

It’s become almost a cliché in the politics of Washington, D.C.: Every time someone proposes expanding a social program or creating a new one, scores of politicians, lobbyists and so-called economic ?“experts” will pop up to tell you that it will cost too much and we can’t afford it. Somehow, money is never an issue when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations or increasing our military budget, but programs that support everyday people are just too damn expensive.

new analysis from the University of Michigan on the impact of recent stimulus payments adds to a growing body of evidence that shows when it comes to direct cash assistance programs, cost is not a prohibitive issue. In fact, for social programs like these, we may be unable to afford not to do them.

According to the analysis, which looked at data from the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, in the weeks following the stimulus check payments in December 2020 and March 2021, households across the country saw a significant decrease in their material hardship. American families reported increased food security, a greater ability to pay for household expenses and less anxiety. This effect was particularly pronounced in low-income households and households with children?—?in the six weeks following the passage of the December 2020 Covid relief bill, amongst families with children, the rate of not having enough to eat fell by 21% and the rate of having difficulty paying for household expenses fell by 24%. These rates dropped again by 23% and 31%, respectively, following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021.

These findings align with the results of a previous analysis in 2017 from the Roosevelt Institute which looked into various programs that provided direct, unconditional cash to individuals in the United States and Canada, such as the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and the Eastern Band of Cherokees casino dividend program. Both of these analyses show the same dynamic: when people receive money with no strings attached, they spend it on the things they need, leading them to live healthier, less anxious lives.

While these outcomes are certainly beneficial for recipients in the immediate term, the broader implications of these changes are just as important. When people don’t have food or are living in poverty, it’s not just a burden on them?—?it’s a burden on all of society. These conditions are directly tied to poorer health outcomes, which puts a drain on our nation’s healthcare system. Poor people are more likely to turn to crime as a means of supporting themselves. Those in poverty may require continued support from our inadequate existing social welfare programs, relying on programs like food stamps, housing assistance and disability insurance to barely make ends meet.

The social implications of poverty are even more pronounced among children, where its impact on cognitive development and educational opportunities may alter their life trajectories. Living in a financially stable household and getting enough to eat could mean the difference between having opportunities later in life and getting trapped in a low-income job with no prospects for advancement.

When considering the aggregate impact of poverty on our society, the results are staggering. A 2018 analysis in the Social Work Research journal found that childhood poverty alone costs our society more than $1 trillion every year from a combination of lost productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs as a result of childhood homelessness and maltreatment.

To accurately assess the cost of social programs, we should be comparing the required expenditures to the expected savings from poverty reduction. A good example is the recent expansion of the child tax credit?—?described as a ?“guaranteed income for families”—which is set to provide up to $300 per child per month for kids under the age of six and $250 per child per month for kids between six and seventeen starting in July. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation expects this expansion to cost $110 billion for the year, while the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects that the program will decrease child poverty by more than 40%. Well, 40% of $1 trillion is $400 billion, which means the savings from this expansion are over three times the amount spent.

There’s good reason to think that the latest round of stimulus checks will also yield positive long-term returns, as people teeter between regaining their financial footing and slipping into poverty. ?“This money is going towards all the bills that weren’t paid during the time we had to take off,” according to Sandy Lash, a single mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana who relied on the stimulus payments to make it through the pandemic. ?“Receiving these checks will enable [us] to make a difference and move up to where we don’t have to struggle anymore.”

This presents our society with a clear choice: Do we allow increasing poverty and financial precarity to continue to drain away our society’s resources? Or do we make the investment now to create a secure and productive population through programs providing direct cash to families? An immediate first step would be to make the expanded child tax credit, which is set to expire after this year, a permanent, ongoing program. Beyond that, establishing a full, national guaranteed income program that provides monthly payments to all Americans?—?such as the one proposed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib through her Automatic BOOST to Communities Act—could pay massive dividends down the road by fully eliminating material poverty in the United States.

It’s not hard to see which of these approaches is the more affordable one.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 9, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jim Pugh is  is the co-director of the Universal Income Project.


Share this post

IN 21 STATES ENDING ALL PANDEMIC UI PROGRAMS EARLY, 3 IN 4 WILL LOSE ALL JOBLESS AID

Share this post

Nearly 4 Million Workers to Lose Lifeline Unemployment Payments Starting June 12

NATIONWIDE — In the 21 states ending early their participation in all federal pandemic unemployment programs, three quarters of the workers now receiving jobless aid—nearly 2.3 million people—will be left with no state or federal jobless aid at all, according to a new analysis released today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The greatest numbers of workers affected by the pandemic unemployment cutoffs will be in Texas, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida. In Texas, a staggering four in five workers (81.9%) currently receiving unemployment payments—totaling 1.2 million workers, 59.3% of whom are workers of color—will lose all unemployment income support.

“The post-pandemic recovery has barely started. Employment remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Millions of people are still out of work and need the income support from unemployment insurance to get by,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “So it’s unconscionable that these 21 Republican governors have unilaterally decided that no one in their state needs any pandemic jobless aid anymore and that it’s OK to pull the plug on these programs early.”

“This severe, abrupt, and ill-advised cutoff of pandemic jobless aid hurts the workers and families who need that income support, harms the small businesses that depend on those workers to spend money as customers, and will set back the economic recovery in those states,” added Dixon.

The first wave of premature cutoffs begins on Saturday, June 12, in four states: Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Missouri. Alaska will be ending only the $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) weekly supplemental payments, while the other three states will be terminating all pandemic unemployment programs. Twenty-one more states will follow suit through June and early July, although NELP has argued that the U.S. Department of Labor has legal authority to ensure that all eligible workers continue to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits through September 6.

More than 3.9 million workers in 25 states will lose the weekly $300 FPUC payments. Workers of color will bear the brunt, as nearly half (over 46%) of unemployment insurance (UI) recipients in those states are Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Workers losing out on lifeline payments will face an economy that is far from fully recovered. The May jobs report showed 9.3 million people unemployed, with another 5.3 million only working part-time but still seeking full-time work. The economy is down 7.6 million jobs (5%) from pre-pandemic Feb. 2020 levels. With families still reeling from loss, lack of childcare, and ever-present concerns about getting sick on the job, FPUC and all UI funds remain a crucial lifeline.

“The past year has demanded bold solutions to unprecedented levels of unemployment, with the additional federal unemployment funds serving as a necessary stopgap in lieu of structural reform. At this pivotal moment, elected officials need to get behind critical reforms to prevent future failures of our unemployment system, so we can avoid the type of harmful actions we’re now seeing at the state level,” said Dixon.

Federal pandemic programs are still helping millions of people and their families get through the worst economic crisis in over a century. For jobless workers and their families in states where Republican governors have opted out, the ramifications will be far-reaching:

  • Over 3.9 million workers will lose the weekly $300 FPUC supplement in the 25 states.
  • 3,951,578 people receiving unemployment payments as of May 15 will be affected—all of them losing the $300 weekly FPUC benefit supplement and more than half (57.5%) abruptly losing all unemployment benefits.
  • In the 21 states ending participation in all of the pandemic programs, nearly 2.3 million people, who represent 74.5% of those receiving unemployment benefits in those states, will be left with no state or federal unemployment aid at all.
  • Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color are nearly half (over 46%) of UI recipients in the states ending pandemic unemployment programs early.
  • Of the 25 states cutting pandemic unemployment payments, 11 of them have 40% or higher people-of-color UI recipients, and eight have 50% or higher.

With unemployed people spending money at higher rates, federal assistance helps stimulate the economy just as businesses and industries begin to reopen, in addition to keeping families afloat. States that are prematurely ending federal pandemic unemployment programs threaten to stymie a fuller recovery.

READ THE DATA BRIEF:
3.9 Million Workers Face Premature Cutoff of Pandemic Unemployment Programs

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on June 8, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: For 50 years, NELP has sought to ensure that America upholds, for all workers, the promise of opportunity and economic security through work. NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and unemployed workers.


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Sign Up:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

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

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

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