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Labor watchdog backs calls for binding Covid-19 workplace safety standard, slams Trump’s policy

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The Labor Department’s independent watchdog recommended that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration consider issuing Covid-19-specific safety rules employers would be required to follow, saying that would better protect Americans from exposure to the coronavirus.

The recommendation adds weight to calls by President Joe Biden, other Democrats and labor unions for the agency to issue such emergency protections, which business groups and many Republicans oppose.

In a report released Tuesday, the department’s Inspector General said mandatory rules “could be of importance” because it’s extremely difficult for the agency to cite employers for safety risks without them.https://953a1f8cee7a9b5ef151aee5a2980011.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

If OSHA issued a Covid-19-specific emergency temporary standard, “employers would be legally obligated to comply with it,” the IG said, and OSHA inspectors “may not be hampered by a lengthy process” when it comes to proving a violation.

OSHA has already issued Covid-19 guidance under a January executive order from Biden and published numerous documents detailing ways that employers can protect their workers from exposure. But the guidelines are not enforceable and do not require companies to comply.

OSHA inspectors in area offices across the country told the IG that a coronavirus-specific safety standard would be helpful to identify safety hazards during Covid-19-related inspections and make it easier to issue citations.

“Guidance in and of itself cannot operate in lieu of an [emergency temporary standard] as an enforcement tool,” the IG report said.

The Trump administration took the position that a Covid-19-specific safety standard wasn’t necessary because the agency could use other safety rules, like its requirements to provide workers personal protective equipment, to police businesses during the pandemic.

Biden took a different approach with his executive order, which directed the agency to decide by mid-March whether it was necessary for OSHA to issue an emergency standard.

The agency, currently being led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick, released stricter guidelines in January for employers on how to protect their workers from the coronavirus.

But so far, there hasn’t been any sign of whether OSHA will issue a safety rule or simply release more non-mandatory safety recommendations for workplaces, although Frederick has said that the January guidance was “not going to be the last step in the process” of responding to Biden’s order.

The IG’s findings could help the Biden administration justify the emergency rulemaking, which Republicans and the business community have opposed, warning it could increase liability and costs for already-struggling businesses.

However, the IG’s audit Tuesday found that the Trump administration’s business-friendly approach at OSHA did not provide the level of protection workers needed during the coronavirus pandemic and left workers’ safety at increased risk.

The report noted that while OSHA has received an influx of safety complaints during the pandemic, the agency suspended most of its on-site safety inspections last year, instead opting for informal inspections that typically result in a phone call to the facility, putting employees’ safety at greater risk.

“While remote inspections might help mitigate potential transmission of Covid-19, a reduction of on-site inspections could result in more work-site accidents, injuries, deaths or employee illnesses,” the IG report said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 2, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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‘Can we find a deal?’: Coronavirus sparks debate over paid leave

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Democrats, Republicans and corporate America are coalescing behind a federal paid leave policy for the first time in the U.S., one of few rich nations where workers aren’t automatically provided the benefit. But as they hammer out the details, fracture lines are already emerging that could derail the decades-long effort once again.

President Joe Biden’s support for a federal program, combined with public frustration at a lack of paid leave during the pandemic, has Democrats reaching for a robust policy. Republicans and employers, many of whom balk at the potential cost to businesses and the government, are seeking a more targeted approach.

“We’re closer to a federal paid leave policy than we’ve ever been,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All, an advocacy group. “This is the time when we can push it to the finish line.”https://a4c41b575340f869f83742e574252ee9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

But negotiating the specifics, she acknowledged, will be an uphill battle: “There’s a lot of questions and various paths forward, and a lot of real-time chess being played.”

There is already a wide gap between what Biden campaigned on, what Republicans are amenable to and what employers think is workable. The president wants to provide all workers with a week of paid sick leave to care for a personal illness, and 12 weeks of longer-term paid family and medical leave to care for themselves or a family member. Some GOP members have floated a narrower approach, while others remain wary of a universal standard that could burden businesses.

“[A] permanent one-size-fits-all federal mandate being pushed by Democrats is not the answer,” House Education and Labor ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said. “New and small businesses are the least equipped to deal with sweeping national mandates during the best of times, let alone a pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is pile on yet another.”

But some advocates say a paid leave policy would have saved the government a load of money during the pandemic. Before the crisis struck, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. workers lacked access to paid sick leave, while 4 in 5 lacked access to paid family leave. More than half are estimated to lack access to paid medical leave.

“We did sort of a back-of-the-envelope analysis of this, and it would have saved the federal government a trillion dollars to have had a federal national paid leave program in place before this pandemic hit,” said Maggie Cordish, who advised Ivanka Trump on paid leave during the Trump administration. “A lot of people would be able to have kept their jobs, taking the time off they needed to deal with caregiving responsibilities, to reorganize their sort of carefully constructed caregiving infrastructure.”

For its part, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce prefers that lawmakers hold off on paid sick leave but would be open to a paid family leave policy.

“We are no longer in the ‘just say no’ mode, which we had been for a long time,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the Chamber. “We are now in the ‘can we find a deal?’ mode.”

Deciding the length of leave is “the least difficult thing to figure out,” Freedman said. Even if Congress and the White House can manage to reach an agreement on the breadth of a policy, other, more complicated questions abound. Who pays for it? Would a federal policy preempt the web of existing state and local requirements? What type of employers would be covered, and what kind of workers could be eligible?

In search of answers, policymakers and businesses are looking to state and local governments that have implemented policies “to see how they have impacted workers and employers,” said Ben Brubeck, vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors.

The skeleton of a paid leave policy in the U.S. was first erected in 1993, when President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. It entitled employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for personal illness, the illness of a family member or military deployment.

But the last three decades have seen no further federal action outside of a successful 2019 push to provide federal employees paid parental leave.

In the absence of congressional action, state and local governments took matters into their own hands.

Joshua Seidman, an attorney who represents employers, said that in a matter of years, businesses have seen new laws pop up in Washington state, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado, among others. And that’s “just in the paid family leave space,” he said.

“This year, we’ve seen the paid sick leave landscape explode,” Seidman said, as the pandemic prompted a flurry of legislative activity.

Over the past decade, unions and labor activists have accelerated their lobbying activity at the municipal and state levels. Their efforts were fruitful: 12 states and the District of Columbia have implemented their own versions of paid sick leave; nine states and D.C. have rolled out a form of paid family and medical leave.

“As we win and study more of the laws that have passed at the state level, it does help to make the case federally,” said Jared Make, vice president for A Better Balance, a national nonprofit advocacy organization for workers.

Make, who works closely with paid leave advocates in statehouses, said his group will push for Congress to enact a law similar to what was just implemented in Colorado. That law, considered to be the most robust in the nation, covers all workers.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) have been fighting to establish permanent paid sick leave and family and medical leave at the federal level — most notably via their FAMILY Act, which they reintroduced earlier this month and would give workers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Then-Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled a plan from the campaign trail that would give workers six months of paid family and medical leave. And Democrats fought to include a permanent paid leave policy in rounds of coronavirus relief legislation.

With the support of the Trump administration, Republicans began to warm to the idea. Ivanka Trump’s lobbying for the benefit contributed to its inclusion in the Families First relief package, which provided half the workforce with two weeks of coronavirus-related sick leave at full pay and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave to care for family members at two-thirds pay.

The Families First program was a statistic-backed success: States that gained access to paid sick leave experienced about 400 fewer cases of Covid-19 per day, researchers at Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute found.But the tax credit portion of the program alone was extended in December — not the actual teeth of the policy, the mandate — and language to renew it was dropped from Biden’s rescue plan. The version of the bill moving through the House would once more extend the tax credits only.

At least one state, New Jersey, decided to give state workers coronavirus sick days after the federal provision lapsed, on top of the state’s other existing paid leave programs.

With a paid leave advocate in the Oval Office and narrow majorities in both chambers, Democrats are redoubling their efforts for a permanent policy.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue — it isn’t for families, and I’m going to keep making it clear that it’s not and trying to get this done,” said Senate HELP Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney rolled out a bill last month alongside DeLauro and others that would provide federal employees with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which she said she hopes can serve as a model for a similar program covering the private sector.

Still, Republicans remain concerned about how the policy could be funded in a way that does not place too much pressure on employers. In part, this is why employers and Republicans are more amenable to paid family leave over paid sick leave: Not only does FMLA provide an existing structure, but many states have rolled out paid family leave programs that are paid for in whole or in part via employee contributions, a model that would place less of a burden on businesses. The cost of paid sick leave, on the other hand, “is basically stuck on the employer,” Freedman said.

It’s a key example of wait-and-see at the state level: “Two of the biggest and what might be considered to be the most left of center states, New York and California, both are over 100 percent, employee-funded programs,” said Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of employment policy at the Chamber of Commerce.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Texas and Florida, Defying CDC Guidance, Aren’t Prioritizing Vaccination of Farmworkers

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Despite Centers for Disease Control recommendations, a few states with large farmworker populations have not prioritized Covid-19 vaccinations for farmworkers. 

Because farmworkers risk Covid-19 exposure in the course of their jobs, the CDC proposed that they should be near the front of the vaccination line. But Texas and Florida, which have large farmworker populations, have not included farmworkers in their initial rollouts, according to state documents.

Farmworker advocates said the people who pick and process the fruits and vegetables consumers rely on should become inoculated from the virus. During the pandemic, farmworkers have been forced to choose between protecting their lives and keeping their jobs.

“We believe that farmworkers should be a high priority for vaccine distribution because of their essential work and because of the high risk of exposure in the agricultural workplace,” said Alexis Guild, Director of Health Policy and Programs at Farmworker Justice.

In Texas, people who are old enough and have a history of illness are the priority, and that could include agricultural workers, said Douglas Loveday, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman.

“Right now, agricultural workers 65 and older and those with underlying chronic illnesses that can lead to several illness or death if infected by Covid-19 can be vaccinated,” he said. ?“Discussions on future priority groups have begun, but nothing has yet been decided.”

Across the U.S., most farmworkers are not over 65. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average age of farmworkers is 39, with over half being younger than 44.

This past summer, Marco Antonio Galvan Gomez, a 49-year old agricultural worker, died from Covid-19 a few weeks after arriving in Texas.

Similarly, only people 65 years old and older, long-term care facility residents and health care personnel are authorized to receive vaccines in Florida, even though farmworkers in the state have been hit hard by Covid-19. For instance, the Immokalee community in southern Florida, known as the capital of tomato production in the U.S., had dozens of deaths over the summer.

Florida’s health department did not return requests for comment.

During the pandemic, farmworkers have been forced to choose between protecting their lives and keeping their jobs. At least 22 farmworkers have died from Covid-19, according to data from the National Center for Farmworker Health. 

As essential workers, farmworkers ?“were required to continue to work throughout the pandemic, but they often have been excluded from protections at the national and state level,” said Kara Moberg, attorney at Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan.

More than half lack health insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 National Agricultural Workers Survey. Many employers don’t provide it.

Many workers also live in employer-provided accommodations?—?often in cramped housing with limited options for social distancing. Among those who don’t live in these facilities, it’s also common to live in crowded conditions.

“For workers who do not work or who do not live in employer-provided housing, they still tend to live in crowded housing conditions because of their low wages,” said Alexis Guild of Farmworker Justice. ?“So it’s very hard for them to socially isolate, socially distance.”

An October study by researchers from the University of California San Diego found that farmworkers, especially those who do not speak English and live in poverty, ?“may be at heightened risk for Covid-19 mortality in non-urban counties.”

All states’ distribution plans for vaccines follow a phased approach, but that differs from state to state.

The phases are decided based on vaccine availability. People in groups 1a, 1b and 1c (or equivalent) will receive the vaccine when the supply is limited. As vaccine availability increases, people in the next phases will be able to receive vaccinations, according to the CDC.

The problem with the CDC guidelines is that, similar to safety protections for workers, there is no federal standard for vaccine prioritization, said Jared Hayes, policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group. This is especially problematic for a workforce that frequently moves across state lines, he said.

“One challenge, especially with regard to farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented, is ensuring that they have access to the vaccine,” he said. ?“We’ve seen how badly the vaccine rollout (has been). Imagine how complicated it would be to vaccinate a workforce that is undocumented and migratory.” 

Problems with access, even if states prioritize farmworkers

Most states have followed CDC recommendations on farmworkers, but advocates worry it will be challenging to get the vaccine to them.

North Carolina, plans to vaccinate farmworkers and other frontline essential workers in the state’s Group 3 (equivalent to the CDC’s 1c phase), following healthcare workers and people 65-years old or older, which belong to Groups 1 and 2 respectively, according to the state’s vaccination plan.

As of Feb. 16, only Groups 1 and 2 were eligible to receive vaccines.

“The way that things are rolling out in North Carolina and just the timing of everything, we haven’t really gotten there yet,” said Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which represents tens of thousands of agricultural workers in the South and Midwest.

In the Midwest, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which ?“represents hundreds of food and agricultural workers across the state,” complained that these workers are ?“currently not scheduled to receive vaccines until May,” according to an online statement.

Even though agricultural workers are classified as part of phase 1b in the state?—?which meant they were scheduled to receive vaccines as early as mid-January?—?they are not expected to receive vaccination until more than three months after the phase begins, according to Michigan’s prioritization guidance.

Mistrust of authorities, immigration status may lead to few vaccinations

Another problem that advocates see is that a combination of mistrust, fear and misinformation might lead farmworkers to avoid looking for vaccinations in the first place.

“The issue of distribution is really complicated and there’s a lot of fear in many communities,” said Guild, of Farmworker Justice. ?“We’ve heard from our partners on the ground, we’ve heard of mistrust and fears around vaccines.” 

According to some advocates, the role of community organizations in educating and providing critical information will be crucial in the next few months.

“Relying on expecting farmworkers to go to the CVS or a medical health clinic won’t be enough,” Hayes, of the Environmental Working Group, said. ?“We’re going to need to lean on the non-profit organizations that have always served farmworkers to ensure that they actually have access to the vaccine.”

Another reason why agricultural workers are in a vulnerable position with regard to vaccine access is that many of them lack legal immigration status, advocates said.

Roughly half of all farmworkers lack legal immigration status, according to the USDA.

Despite this, some advocates are hopeful that immigration status won’t affect farmworkers’ access to vaccination.

“We certainly hope and it seems to be that immigration status will not be a factor when it comes to the vaccine. We also hope to see the vaccine being free of charge, regardless of immigration status, or regardless of insurance status,” Guild said.

In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged undocumented workers to get vaccinated, stating that ?“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.”

“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals regardless of immigration status, to receive the Covid-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines,” the department said.

North Carolina is not checking immigration status during vaccinations, but some residents told the News & Observer they were still scared to get the vaccine.

In Nebraska, despite the federal government’s emphasis on reaching undocumented workers, Governor Pete Ricketts said in January that only documented workers will receive the vaccine.

Neither the governor’s office nor Nebraska’s health department responded to a request for comment.

Editor’s Note: The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools. Visit us online at inves?ti?gatemid?west?.org

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Frank Hernandez is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, majoring in philosophy and multimedia journalism. Previously, he reported for Bor?derzine?.com, an online news magazine covering life on the U.S.-Mexico border.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: National Nurses United Leads Coalition to Urge CDC to Acknowledge COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

National Nurses United (NNU) is leading a group of 44 allied unions and organizations, including the AFL-CIO—representing more than 13 million members and their communities—to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its COVID-19 guidance to fully reflect the latest scientific evidence regarding coronavirus transmission through aerosols that infected people emit when they breathe, speak, cough, sneeze or sing. Today, NNU’s coalition delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures, including scientific experts, urging the CDC to recognize COVID-19 aerosol transmission.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the nation’s nurses have demanded that the CDC’s guidelines be based on scientific evidence,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU. “Nurses know that to effectively battle this virus, we all need to get on the same page about how it spreads….We urge the Biden administration to honor its commitment to listen to experts in the battle against COVID-19, which includes having CDC and other federal agencies explicitly recognize aerosol transmission.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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Grocery workers, heroes of the pandemic, left out on vaccinations, this week in the war on workers

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“Grocery workers say they can’t get coronavirus vaccines, even as they help distribute them,” the Washington Post headline reads. But as the story makes clear, grocery workers don’t “say” they can’t get vaccines. They can’t. Unless they are elderly or have comorbidities in addition to being grocery workers—i.e., unless they are eligible for vaccination for reasons other than being among the front-line workers who have kept us all going this last nearly a year—grocery workers don’t get vaccination priority except in 13 states. Meanwhile, pharmacies in some grocery stores are administering the vaccinations the workers can’t get.

“Of course health-care workers should get the vaccine first, that’s not a question,” one California worker said. “But how many people am I exposed to in a day? Hundreds. Sick or well? I don’t know. Customers come in with masks under their nose, sipping their coffee as they walk around.”

In 11 states there’s no plan to give grocery workers any priority for vaccination, while in Tennessee they’re at the same priority level as overnight camp counselors.

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This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 20, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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The Impact of Job Loss in Immigrant Communities During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark demonstration of the racist and xenophobic attitudes maintained at an institutional level. Job loss and rates of infection have disproportionately affected immigrant groups in the U.S. and other nations around the world. 

With these marginalized groups often being locked out of the aid resources meant to mitigate the damage of COVID-19, job loss has a powerful impact on immigrant communities. But the damage doesn’t stop there. With approximately 48% of agricultural workers in the U.S. lacking citizenship, trouble for immigrant communities means trouble for everyone.

Understanding the totality of this impact requires a look into the data and an analysis of available resources.

Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrant Communities

According to several studies, the effects of COVID-19 seem to be disproportionately impacting communities of ethnic minorities and immigrants. In many cases, these effects ripple through the population and are felt in everything from disruption in supply chains to agricultural slowdowns.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ran a study on the full impacts of the COVID pandemic on migrant families. These are some of the key findings:

  • COVID infection rates are twice as high in migrant communities versus native-born populations.
  • Discrimination has been found to increase during slack labor markets.
  • Immigrants are more highly represented in the sectors of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic.
  • Immigrant children are less likely to have a computer and internet access at home, meaning school closures can disproportionately set these children back in comparison to their peers.

These findings demonstrate the spiral of negative effects of a pandemic on immigrant populations, who are bearing the brunt of the crisis in unemployment numbers as well. Despite having lower unemployment rates than native-born workers before the pandemic, immigrants lost jobs in larger numbers.

Immigrant unemployment reached 16.5% versus the 14% for natives when the shutdowns began.

With more jobs lost in the sectors in which immigrants make up a larger percentage of the workforce, the scale was tipped against these workers. Tipped minimum wage workers, when they weren’t laid off, had tip decreases that were sharper among minority servers. This further increased the equity gap that has long plagued nations across the world and left some of the most vulnerable financial sectors of the population in the most precarious positions.

Since many immigrants often have no earned credit score—coming from nations or backgrounds where one wasn’t needed—even using an emergency credit card became difficult. In turn, computers could not be purchased for out-of-school children. These are disadvantages that can have severe impacts on populations for generations to come, worsening inequality rates that already fall too often under racial lines.

With the risks of COVID-19 more real for immigrant communities in almost every sense, it is important to establish the full extent of the problem. At the same time, underserved immigrant communities should have the resources and help they need to better survive these systemic problems. 

Finding Help and Relief

Whether you’re an immigrant yourself or simply someone empathetic to the problems faced by these communities, whole databases of resources are out there to assist and support the cause. From education to safety, support resources for immigrants and refugees can at the very least connect people to knowledgeable individuals.

Here are some more places you can look for all kinds of help in the COVID era:

  • iAmerica: Information for immigrants on everything from stimulus payments to healthcare tips.
  • ILCTR: Resources for immigrants, parents, and educators during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • United We DreamMental health resources, ways to take action, and more for the immigrant community. 

The impact of job loss in immigrant communities could have far-reaching, long-lasting effects experienced for generations. Recognizing this problem and utilizing helpful resources are the first steps towards better solutions and a more equitable future.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.


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‘Protect us, respect us, and pay us,’ Rev. Barber says of the necessity for a $15 minimum wage

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Including a minimum wage increase in a bill passing the Senate under budget reconciliation got a procedural boost on Monday. The Congressional Budget Office responded to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ queries with an assessment that the minimum wage would have broader budgetary effects than some other measures that have passed the Senate through reconciliation. That means the minimum wage should be eligible for inclusion in a COVID-19 relief package. Unfortunately, there’s also been a setback for the effort to raise the wage in the form of President Biden offering a pessimistic assessment of the likelihood of a minimum wage increase getting through the Senate—at least in its current form.

That’s not a reason to give up, though. It’s a reason to keep pressing on why this is so very important. The federal minimum wage has not gone up since 2009, and it’s literally a poverty wage. Full-time work at $7.25 an hour is barely above the poverty threshold for a single adult, and would leave a parent with one child in poverty. Increasing it to $15 gradually over years—such that by 2025, as in the current bill, inflation would have brought its value downto the equivalent of $13.33 to $14.41 in today’s dollars— would give nearly 32 million people a raise.

If simply lifting people out of poverty is not enough for you, understand that for every common objection to raising the minimum wage, there is a fact-based answer. Voters understand that. Raising the minimum wage is popular enough that voters in some unexpected states have passed increases. Most recently, Florida voters said yes to a gradual increase to a $15 minimum wage, so the Joe Manchins and Kyrsten Sinemas of the Senate should reconsider what they think they know about public support for raising the minimum wage.

They definitely don’t have a moral leg to stand on, as the Rev. William Barber recently pointed out.

“Listen: 55% of poor, low-wealth people voted for this current ticket. That’s the mandate,” he said. “The mandate is in the people who voted, not in the back slapping of senators and congresspeople. It’s the people who voted. And if we turn our backs now, it will hurt 62 million poor, low-wealth people who have literally kept this economy alive, who were the first to have to go to jobs, first to get infected, first to get sick, first to die. We cannot be the last to get relief and the last to get treated and paid properly. Protect us, respect us, and pay us.”

The minimum wage is also a racial justice issue, Barber said. “We cannot address racial equity if we do not address the minimum wage of $15. There’s no such thing as racial equity when you just address police reform and prisons but you don’t address the issue of economic justice. And if you address economic justice, guess what? It helps Black people, and white people, and brown people, and Latino people. It helps everybody. Everybody in, nobody out.”

The case is clear. What do opponents of minimum wage increases have? As the push to pass the Raise the Wage Act continues, expect to see some arguments that just don’t hold up.

For instance, opponents of raising the minimum wage themselves sometimes talk about racial justice—Sen. Rand Paul, for instance, said in January, “the people who lose their jobs first when you hike up the minimum wage are Black teenagers. So, you know, ‘why does Joe Biden hate Black teenagers’ should be the question. Why does Joe Biden want to destroy all these jobs?” 

Who are you going to turn to on racial and economic justice questions—Rand Paul or Rev. Barber? This is Paul telling us right off the bat that his objections are dishonest. The job losses Paul projects are also highly questionable, as in, most of the economists who have most seriously studied the effects of minimum wage increases on job loss or creation have found “negligible or zero effects on jobs.”

The funny thing is, teenage workers are often a favored Republican talking point against raising the minimum wage, in a completely different way. 

More commonly, the claim is that most of the people who’d get raises would be teenagers saving up for designer jeans or whatever. That it’s paid to people who don’t really need the money, so why put the burden on business owners? Concern for teenagers’ jobs of the sort Paul is feigning is not usually the posture. But when the “it’s teenagers who don’t need it” argument does come out—because someone’s probably going to raise it—consider this: just 17% of minimum wage workers are teenagers, and many of those are helping support their families. When the New Jersey minimum wage rose from $8 to $10 in 2018, 19-year-old Fiona Joseph told USA Today, “I didn’t have to work 25 hours a week in order to pay the electricity bill.”

Opponents of raising the minimum wage often claim to worry about small businesses. Some small business owners also worry. But while coverage of those worries, such as a New York Times story on how the $14 minimum wage is playing out in Fresno, California, may lead with a restaurant owner’s claims that “Every year we have had to make hard decisions to let labor go,” buried in the article you’ll often find a statistic casting doubt on those claims. Like the fact that Fresno’s restaurant employment rose 7% between 2016 and 2019. Reverse the emphasis and you get “Restaurant employment rises as minimum wage rises, but some restaurant owners say that’s why they’re cutting jobs.” Which … has a different feel than several paragraphs of regretful restaurant owner talking about the job cuts they’ve sadly been forced to make. 

Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. The arguments against it don’t actually hold up. Unfortunately, there’s an entire political party opposed to ensuring that work pays a wage above poverty levels, and all they need to do is scare off a Democrat or two—that would be Manchin and Sinema—and they can keep tens of millions of people from getting a raise. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Democrats call for UI system fix as millions face another lapse in benefits

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Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Senate Democrat overseeing unemployment issues, is calling on Congress to give the Labor Department $500 million to shore up the bewildered state unemployment system.

Hobbled by antiquated computer systems, state agencies responsible for paying out unemployment benefits have struggled to administer new emergency aid programs created for the millions of people pushed out of work during the pandemic, leaving many jobless people without much-needed aid for weeks.

And if lawmakers are unable to move quickly on their latest pandemic rescue package, the issue could mean that as many as 11.4 million workers could face yet another lapse in benefits when expanded unemployment programs expire again next month.

A bill released Wednesday by Wyden and Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Mark Warner (Va.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) is aimed at fixing those systemic issues, calling on the DOL to develop a uniform system for jobless benefits that states can use to remedy their systems.

“While enhanced jobless benefits have enabled millions and millions of families to pay the rent and buy groceries, state after state has been unable to get benefits out the door in a timely manner,” Wyden said in a statement. “My bill requires a complete overhaul of unemployment insurance technology, and paves the way for one website to apply for jobless benefits, not 53.”

But some state officials point the finger at Washington for not giving them adequate time to prevent a lapse in benefits, arguing that lawmakers have taken too long to approve extensions in the programs, resulting in delayed guidance on how to administer the changes.

As part of his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, President Joe Biden has called on Congress to extend several federally funded CARES Act jobless benefit programs through September 2021. But, the legislation Democrats have proposed would only extend them through Aug. 29, 2021.

A Senate Finance committee staffer told POLITICO that Wyden is “certainly looking” at whether the proposals could fit into the relief package. But the measure would have to comply with the strict budget rules that accompany the fast-track process known as reconciliation that Democrats are using to pass the next Covid-19 aid package with a simple majority in the Senate.

Even if it is passed quickly under budget reconciliation, the bill won’t have an immediate effect, as it lays out a two-year timeline for implementation.

Currently, while DOL oversees the unemployment system rules and funds the administrative costs, it’s up to 53 individual state and territorial unemployment agencies to actually process unemployment claims and get the benefits into the pockets of those who qualify.

But their archaic systems have struggled under the fast pace of job losses caused by pandemic-related shutdowns throughout the past year and a wave of fraud targeting the beefed up unemployment benefits Congress provided under one of the pandemic aid packages.

As a result, any changes to jobless benefit programs have taken weeks for states to implement.

Some workers who used up all 39 weeks of their unemployment benefits offered under federal programs last year still haven’t been able to tap into the extra 11 weeks of benefit provided under the extension of unemployment aid enacted by Congress in December.

In California, six percent of unemployment claimants — 185,000 people — won’t have access to those benefits until March 7, according to California’s Employment Development Department.

“What’s the roadblock here?” California Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said in reaction to news of the delay last week. “The roadblock to getting money to massive amounts of people who need it and need it desperately is the same old problem. Dinosaur technology.”

But in New Jersey, state officials blamed Congress for not giving states enough time to stand up the latest round of benefits. New Jersey prioritized getting the $300 benefit out the door first, as it would help all people who were receiving unemployment. But about 75,000 workers whose unemployment benefits had expired were left in limbo as programmers worked to feverishly update the 11-week benefits extension into their system.

The issue was ultimately resolved on Saturday, but New Jersey’s labor commissioner said in a press conference last week that Congress waiting caused “significant pain” for these 75,000 workers, who represented about 5 percent of the state’s claimants.

“The frustrations our workers are feeling are taking place all over the nation right now, as a result of last minute federal action,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said, before the programming problem was resolved. “If [Congress] had acted just weeks before the expiration date they knew was looming for months, states would have had the time needed to keep benefits for some from lapsing at all.”

New Jersey’s technology system is in desperate need of upgrades. But other states that have spent large sums of money modernizing their systems are having the “exact same challenges with this subset of claimants,” Asaro-Angelo said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Maine hospital gave scarce COVID-19 vaccinations to out-of-state consultants there to bust a union

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Union-busters who traveled from other states to fight a union organizing drive at a Maine hospital got an extra-special bonus from hospital management: COVID-19 vaccinations. State officials are calling out MaineHealth over that violation of state vaccination policy and basic decency.

“Vaccinating out-of-state contractors who came here to disrupt a union-organizing effort was an insult to the hardworking nurses trying to assert their rights and to those who are waiting patiently for their turn: the 80-year-old grandmother who hasn’t seen her family in months; the man being treated for cancer; the teacher wanting to return to the classroom; the grocery clerks and delivery drivers who are exposed to the public and working to put food on the table,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. Mills also criticized MaineHealth more broadly for vaccinating staff who don’t have contact with patients, noting that “we have a limited supply of the vaccine, and we have had to prioritize who can be vaccinated.”

”Every out-of-state consultant and lawyer that MaineHealth flew in as part of their intimidation campaign got the vaccine instead of someone’s grandparent or loved one,” Maine Senate President Troy Jackson said. “It’s concerning that MaineHealth would put their own anti-union agenda, and their own bottom line, ahead of the health and well-being of Maine people. At a time when Maine has only a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine and is still grappling with a public health crisis, this seems particularly cruel.”

”They’re not front-line people. They should not have been the priority to get those vaccinations,” Maine State Nurses Association President Cokie Giles told HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson. “I have friends of mine in their 70s who get up at 6 o’clock every morning to go online and try to get their [vaccination] appointments.” 

With the attention on its actions—thanks originally to Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz—MaineHealth has gone from defending the move, saying “MaineHealth stands by its decision in December to offer vaccination against COVID-19 to its full care team as being in the best interests of its patients, care team members and the communities it serves,” to “We understand that non-Maine residents are not eligible for any vaccine and acknowledge that we erred in vaccinating those individuals.”

But the hospital system showed its priorities first by hiring anti-union consultants and then by drawing attention to that by vaccinating them over actual Maine residents who should have gotten those doses. With the union representation election coming up in March, nurses have been organizing around issues like staffing and protective equipment. Now they have another big question to ask their employer: “Hospitals talk to nurses about how expensive it would be to have a union, and how their costs would go up,” said Giles. “I would like to know how much they’re spending on these consultants.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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New Survey From Broad Coalition Shows Overlapping Challenges of Racial, Gender, and Economic Injustice Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Today, Color Of Change, National Employment Law Project, the TIME’S UP Foundation Impact Lab, and the Worker Institute at Cornell ILR released results from new survey research showing deep racial, gender, and economic disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data point to immediate worker needs and long-standing structural inequities that policymakers and employers must address.

“The outcomes workers are facing as a result of the pandemic are because of deeply embedded racism and sexism in the labor market and beyond — factors which are not new, but have been amplified over the course of this crisis,” said report co-author Dr. Rakeen Mabud, Director of Research and Strategy at TIME’S UP Foundation. “We stand at a tipping point to make our nation better, stronger, and more equal, but only if policymakers do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The national survey, which was conducted in late 2020 and oversampled Black and Latinx respondents, examines outcomes across overlapping determinants of worker wellbeing and power, including measures related to economic security, health and safety, and agency and voice in the workplace and beyond.

“While our challenges may seem unprecedented, the reality of today’s economy is all too familiar: women, Black and brown people, and those at the intersection are getting left behind by their employers, our government and by the healthcare system as a whole,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. “As Biden and Congress steer our nation through this crisis with the latest proposed package, this research shows that leaders in government must pay particular attention to marginalized communities. Funneling funds through big banks and corporate bailouts — schemes that leave out Black and brown workers — does not cut it. We need immediate, direct relief.”

The results demonstrate the profound and often compounding challenges that working people in the United States – particularly Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and those who are underpaid – are navigating in the workplace and beyond.

Some key findings:

  • Employers and government agencies are denying workers, and Black workers in particular, access to critical unemployment supports. Thirty-four percent of Black workers, 26% of Latinx workers, and 14% of white workers who applied for unemployment assistance were denied it.
  • Working women (17%) were more likely than working men (12%) to report that their household had trouble paying bills before the pandemic began, and a larger share of women (45%) than men (38%) reported increased challenges covering household expenses since then.
  • Black and Latinx workers are most concerned about employer retaliation for speaking up about unsafe workplace conditions. Thirty-four percent of Black workers and 25% of Latinx workers reported concerns about employer retaliation, compared to 19% of white workers.
  • Almost half of Black workers (48%), nearly a third of Latinx workers (29%), and many Asian workers (15%) fear receiving substandard health care due to their race if they become seriously ill, compared to 4% of white workers.
  • Support for Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements transcends race, gender, and socioeconomic identity. More than half of men (61%) and women (68%) expressed support for #metoo, and 58% and 64% of men and women support Black Lives Matter.
  • Sixty-two percent and 61% of non-union Black and Asian workers, respectively, said that they would definitely or probably support a union at their job, compared to 42% of white workers and 44% of Latinx workers. However, union membership stands at 8% to 12% across these groups, woefully out of step with these levels of support.

“The survey results speak to the enormous challenges people have experienced in healthcare institutions, voting systems, and the world of work. They also point to a broad-based desire for voice at work and support for movements advancing racial and gender justice,” said report co-author Sanjay Pinto, Fellow at the Worker Institute at Cornell. “We need responses that confront racial, gender, and economic disparities across different systems, both through policy and the power of collective action.”

This group of partners will remain focused on worker wellbeing and power through the pandemic and its aftermath, working with worker-led organizations and policymakers to support cross-cutting, equity-focused interventions that advance a just recovery: one that supports lasting security, safety, and agency in the workplace and beyond.

“The Just Recovery Survey offers both sobering and hopeful new indicators measuring the impact of the pandemic and economic crisis on working people, and provides new insight into the particular challenges confronting Black, Latinx, women, and low-paid workers, and those in frontline occupations,” said report co-author Maya Pinto, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “Results underscore the urgent need for policymakers and employers to support and implement the policies workers need and demand, to build worker power and ensure health and economic security for all.”

Read the complete survey findings at bit.ly/justrecoverysurvey

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This blog originally appeared at NELP on February 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About Color Of Change
Color of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 7 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.

About National Employment Law Project
The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org. Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.

About TIME’S UP Foundation
The TIME’S UP Foundation insists upon safe, fair, and dignified work for all by changing culture, companies, and laws. We enable more people to seek justice through the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. We pioneer innovative research driving toward solutions to address systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace through the TIME’S UP Impact Lab. And we reshape key industries from within so they serve as a model for all industries. The TIME’S UP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

About the Worker Institute at Cornell
The Worker Institute at Cornell works to advance worker rights and collective representation through research, education, and training in conjunction with labor and social justice movements. We seek innovative solutions to problems faced by working people in our workplaces and economy today.


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