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ABB, EPI, and NELP Release Toolkit For Advocates and Policymakers On Model Policies Local Governments Can Implement to Raise Standards For Frontline Workers During COVID and Beyond

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Washington, DC— Today, the National Employment Law Project (NELP), A Better Balance (ABB), and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a toolkit for advocates and policymakers featuring four model policies that cities and counties can implement immediately to respond to workers’ calls for safety and dignity on the job—in the pandemic and beyond. The four model policies would advance premium pay, paid sick days, COVID-19 worker health and safety, and protection against retaliation.

Over a year into the COVID-19 crisis, federal law still does not guarantee workers premium pay for working on the frontlines during emergencies; the right to paid days off when they or family members are sick; enforceable COVID-19 health and safety protections; and adequate protection against being punished for speaking up on the job about unsafe conditions or violations of their rights. Far too many state laws and corporate policies also fall short when it comes to these standards.

Occupational segregation has disproportionately pushed Black and Latinx workers, the majority of them women, into underpaid, yet always essential, jobs that are now on the frontlines of the pandemic. Across the country, workers of color have tied their demands for pandemic protections to fights for racial, gender, and economic justice.

While the Biden administration has begun to address some of the gaps the Trump administration and Congress left in responding to our communities’ calls, a chasm remains. But city and county governments can step in right now to enact laws and policies that will help keep workers and the public safe during the ongoing pandemic and beyond. The new model policy toolkit from NELP, ABB, and EPI includes four model laws that cities and counties can and must adopt to heed workers’ calls:Emergency premium pay for frontline workers; a permanent right to paid sick leave with additional time off during a declared public health emergency; health and safety protections for certain frontline workers who will not be protected by upcoming OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for COVID-19 , including app-based workers and domestic workers; and anti-retaliation protections to ensure workers can speak up about job conditions and enforce their rights safely during this crisis and after. This, too, is about racial justice—a recent survey from NELP found that Black workers were twice as likely as white workers to report that they or someone at work may have been punished or fired for raising concerns about COVID-19 spreading in the workplace.

The model laws in the toolkit are designed so localities can adapt them to meet local needs.

“The pandemic has made it clearer than ever that the laws ensuring the safety of workers, unemployed people, and our communities overall are woefully inadequate. And because our lives are all so deeply intertwined, what affects one worker affects all of us—when a grocery store cashier doesn’t feel safe bringing up concerns about lacking COVID-19 safety precautions at work, and then workers get sick, the spread continues into the community. Unfortunately, we are not out of this yet, and cities must hear workers’ calls and step in now,” says NELP Executive Director Rebecca Dixon.

“Without paid sick leave and strong workplace health and safety standards, millions of individuals around the country are forced to sacrifice their personal and family health, or risk their income when they need it most. At A Better Balance, through our free legal helpline, we hear every day from working individuals whose experiences show how the pandemic has sharply exacerbated our nation’s longstanding crisis of care, with especially harsh consequences for low-wage workers and women of color. Local governments have a critical role to play in passing robust policies to protect workers’ health and safety and enable them to care for themselves and their loved ones,” says A Better Balance Co-Founder and Co-President Sherry Leiwant.

“Strong economies require standards that ensure workers are safe and paid fairly. Over the past year, people in frontline jobs have put their lives on the line with little bargaining power to demand higher pay or safer workplaces. They deserve basic protections to keep them and their families safe, as well as pay that compensates them for the added risk they’re taking in order to keep the economy going,” says EPI Senior Economic Analyst David Cooper.

Ultimately, the pandemic has laid bare how deeply structural racism and long-standing anti-worker policy impacts every corner of our society—and how little our laws protect workers, and especially workers of color in underpaid, frontline jobs. But there is also a tremendous opportunity here: Local governments can play a critical role in building a just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, by taking steps to advance worker and community safety and dignity, during this crisis and beyond.

Download the model local policy toolkit now

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This blog originally appeared at NELP on April 7, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About A Better Balance 

A Better Balance, a national, nonprofit advocacy organization, uses the power of the law to advance justice for workers, so they can care for themselves and their loved ones without jeopardizing their economic security. To learn more, visit abetterbalance.org and follow A Better Balance on Twitter @ABetterBalance.

About the Economic Policy Institute

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security.To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America. EPI proposes public policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers and assesses policies with respect to how they affect those workers.

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.


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Biden administration weeks behind on Covid-19 workplace safety rules

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The federal worker safety watchdog is weeks behind on President Joe Biden’s deadline for the agency to issue mandatory workplace safety rules that experts say will fight the spread of the coronavirus and protect workers.

Shortly after taking office, Biden gave the Labor Department a March 15 deadline to decide whether such emergency rules were necessary, and it was widely assumed the department would recommend moving forward with them. But three weeks later, newly minted Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is asking the agency to continue reviewing the rule.

“Secretary Walsh reviewed the materials, and determined that they should be updated to reflect the latest scientific analysis of the state of the disease,” a Labor Department spokesperson told POLITICO. “He has ordered a rapid update based on CDC analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants. He believes this is the best way to proceed.”

Biden campaigned on making Covid-19 guidelines — currently just optional recommendations for employers — into mandatory rules. Business groups and unions have been bracing for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to release an emergency workplace safety standard that would immediately require employers to take steps to protect their workers from exposure to the virus.

The rule was expected to at least mandate CDC guidelines on mask wearing, which some industry groups have warned would create headaches for businesses in the states that have already moved to rollback social distancing and mask requirements for businesses. It also would likely require employers to develop a Covid-19 response plan, similar to a required fire drill, for how the businesses would respond if someone was exposed to the virus at work.

The delay is raising concerns among former workplace regulators and worker advocates, who fear Biden may be dropping an essential piece of his Covid-19 response plan, as well as sowing confusion in the business community.

“I’m concerned that there are administration staff who incorrectly believe that the pandemic is under control and that an ETS isn’t necessary,” said David Michaels, who led OSHA during the Obama administration.

“The CDC director is pleading with the country to take precautions, but workers can’t take those precautions” without an ETS, said Michaels, now a professor of occupational health at George Washington University.

Business groups are also scratching their heads after broadly expecting the rules.

“I’m as in much of a befuddlement as anyone,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the Chamber of Commerce. “This sounds like Secretary Walsh and the DOL are grappling with what everyone else is seeing — the increasing success of the vaccines raises serious questions about whether an ETS is justified, such as whether employees are still in ‘grave danger,’ and an ETS can be called ‘necessary.’”

The longer it takes for the Biden administration to release the rule, the harder it could be for the rule to stand up to legal challenges, according to Freedman and attorneys who specialize in workplace safety law.

OSHA only has the authority to issue an “emergency temporary safety standard” if it determines that workers are “in grave danger” due to exposure to something “determined to be toxic or physically harmful or to new hazards.” But that justification could be slipping as the Biden administration rushes to get Americans vaccinated against the virus.

While Biden administration officials have been warning that more contagious strains of the virus are taking hold, the president has been moving to expand access to the vaccine and was optimistic in his last message to the nation, promising Americans a return to some sense of normal life by Independence Day.

Republicans, who have been broadly opposed to any mandatory safety rules, are criticizing what they see as a mixed message from the administration.

“The Biden administration is speaking out of both sides of its mouth,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. “The President claims every adult will be eligible for a vaccine in May and then argues an immediate ‘emergency’ standard is necessary to curb the crisis.”

“This politicized process highlights the Biden administration’s blatant incompetence and hypocrisy. The federal government must not add more uncertainty and bureaucratic red tape for job creators, workers, and consumers as we continue to emerge from this crisis.”

But worker-safety experts say that the longer the Biden administration waits, more workers will get sick with the virus and could die.

“We are deeply concerned about when the standard is coming out. Basically workers have been going for a year facing untold numbers of illnesses and deaths without just a basic agreement that employers need to create a safety plan,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

“It’s essential, it’s life saving and it needs to come out now,” she said. “We can’t wait another day for this.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on April 7, 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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Black workers, hammered by pandemic, now being left behind in recovery

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Black Americans, who were among the hardest hit by coronavirus layoffs, are now recovering at the slowest rate, a one-two punch that threatens to worsen the United States’ already stark wealth and income disparities long after the pandemic recedes.

While Hispanic workers initially saw the sharpest uptick in unemployment when business shutdowns began last spring, Black people have seen a slower return to work even as the economy is poised for a robust rebound, government data and economic analyses show. When the overall unemployment rate ticked down in February, Black workers were the only group that saw a rise in joblessness, a 0.7 percentage point increase.

The share of Black Americans holding jobs also dropped over the month while it continued to move up for all other races and ethnicities. Over the past year, white, Asian and Hispanic Americans have regained roughly two-thirds of their initial job losses in terms of what share of their population is working, a key measure of labor and unemployment known as the “employment-population ratio.” Black workers have only recovered slightly more than half.

The data has fueled fears that the nascent recovery will not be evenly shared, a dynamic that would exacerbate income and wealth inequality while prolonging the return to full employment. The trend is reminiscent of the Great Recession, when Black workers saw a worse downturn and slower rate of return to normal. And this time, it has caught the attention of top policymakers across the Biden administration and in Congress.

“We’re trying to make sure that it is not like so many other recoveries,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress and chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “Slow for everybody, and a snail’s pace for Black and brown communities.”

The headwinds that Black workers face are plenty, some unique to the coronavirus recession but others the result of structural inequities that have long contributed to high rates of unemployment — typically double that of white workers even in strong economies.

For one, many of the industries in which Black workers are heavily represented are not recovering as quickly as others as the economy reopens — or are even continuing to backslide. State and local governments have long been a major employer for African Americans. But while the labor market broadly improved last month, state and local governments shed another 83,000 jobs and remain down 1.4 million workers from a year ago.

“Those sectors in which the rebound is really not happening, or not happening in impactful ways, are really almost the same industries in which African Americans are overrepresented,” said Michelle Holder, a labor economist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She cited transportation, a major employer for Black men, and health services, where Black women are heavily represented, as two other industries that have taken longer to come back, keeping the unemployment rate high.

The devastation of the child care sector amid the shutdowns has also heavily affected Black and Hispanic women, who are more likely to work at child care centers and to depend on them in order to be able to take jobs elsewhere.

And while employment in high-wage sectors has almost completely recovered, low-wage industries remain down 28 percent from a year ago, according to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights tracker — a disparity that disproportionately affects workers of color.

Structural inequities in the U.S. labor market that have affected Black and Hispanic workers’ ability to advance out of low-paying jobs, as well as discrimination in hiring practices, are also likely having an effect, some economists say.

When unemployment spiked in April, the gap between Black and white rates of joblessness narrowed significantly, indicating the losses were spread across the board. But it has steadily grown since then as white workers have returned to work faster — which William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO, said he took as “proof” of the effect of discriminatory hiring practices.

Spriggs also said that for much of the past year, unemployment has been higher for all Black workers, including those with college degrees, than for those of all races with less than a high school education.

“This is not a matter of skills,” Spriggs said. “It’s a matter of the way discrimination takes place within the recovery.”

One way to address the slower recovery among workers of color is to ensure that federal support remains in place as long as Black and Hispanic unemployment remains elevated, advocates say, rather than cut it off once the levels return closer to normal. And given that these workers typically remain out of work the longest, President Joe Biden will need a prolonged economic recovery to ensure the labor market gets tight enough to pull them back in from the sidelines.

Clyburn’s focus is two-fold: tracking the Covid relief money as it goes out to ensure that it’s being spent equitably, and pushing the Biden administration to invest heavily in a second stimulus package focused on infrastructure, which would spark job creation across the country.

Clyburn said he has spoken about the need to address the uneven recovery with both Biden and Susan Rice, the president’s top domestic policy adviser, adding that Biden has made clear “he plans to do the right thing.”

There are signs the administration is focused on the disparities. The White House Council of Economic Advisers highlighted adjusted unemployment rates, which include those who have given up the search for work, broken down by race and gender after the latest jobs data was released for February. The report showed that the Black unemployment rate stood at nearly 15 percent — affecting nearly 1 in 6 workers — compared to an overall rate of 9.5 percent. The adjusted Hispanic unemployment rate is 12.4 percent.

At the Labor Department, chief economist Janelle Jones penned a blog post last month stressing the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on Black Americans, particularly women.

And Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says he is tracking the Black and Hispanic unemployment rates, among other statistics, because elevated joblessness there signals weakness in the broader labor market.

“This particular downturn, of course, was just a direct hit on a part of the economy that employs many minorities and lower paid workers… and it’s the slowest part of the economy to recover,” Powell said at a March 17 press conference. “We’d like to see those people continue to get support as the broader economy recovers, as it’s very much doing now.”

The longer the rate of recovery for Black workers continues to lag, the more likely it is to have a lasting impact. Workers who fall into long-term unemployment — defined as being out of a job for six months or more — take longer to return to work and are more likely to drop out of the labor market entirely.

Black workers are also far less likely to have had savings to lean on to weather an extended period of joblessness — the net worth of an average Black family is about one-tenth that of a white family — and therefore more vulnerable to falling into debt or losing their homes. And another prolonged economic recovery for Black Americans could worsen the already dramatic racial wealth gap, particularly as it drags on both personal savings and future earnings.

The key to addressing the inequities lies in promoting a strong economic recovery for everyone, while recognizing that some communities and workers will take longer to return to normal and require more help than others, economists say.

“People love the quote [from] John F. Kennedy, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ It lifts all the boats that got solid bottoms,” Clyburn said. “If the bottoms got holes in them or if the boats have deteriorated, a rising tide ain’t gonna lift them.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 23, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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The Pandemic’s Impact on Workers and Looking Towards a Just Recovery

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NELP’s roadmap for a Just Recovery is based on our vision for bold structural change and on our fall 2020 survey of workers on the COVID frontlines, people who lost their jobs, and other community members seriously impacted by this disease and the failure of so many of our lawmakers and employers to properly address its dangers.

Our findings illustrated how structural racism created the pre-conditions for Black communities and other communities of color to suffer the most during the pandemic, from our health to our wallets.

It’s a disturbing picture, and one that public officials can only hope to address if they start listening to workers’ demands immediately.

Here were some of our major findings on the effects of the pandemic: 

  • 34% of Black workers had a claim for Unemployment Insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation denied;
  • Covering rent, utility, credit card, student loan, medical, and living expenses got harder for a large share of U.S. households, particularly those of frontline workers and Black and Latinx workers;
  • A significant share of all workers, and a larger share of working Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, say that fear of employer retaliation would prevent them from refusing unsafe work;
  • Workers classified as independent contractors and workers employed by temporary help and staffing agencies were 2X as likely have lost income than other workers.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on March 18, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. 


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On the Introduction of the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act to Protect Meatpacking Workers

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Washington, DC—Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“NELP applauds the introduction of the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, championed by Senator Cory Booker and Representative Rosa DeLauro, which would protect the health and safety of meatpacking workers by suspending and prohibiting any line speed increases in meat and poultry plants during the ongoing COVID pandemic. The Act would halt any line speed waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Trump administration.

“COVID-19 spread like wildfire across the meat and poultry industry in the last year, and it continues to spread through the plants. Despite guidance issued in March 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that emphasized the key protective measure of social distancing, the companies operating the plants continued to require meat and poultry workers to work shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow through the entire pandemic. Stunningly, in the middle of the pandemic, as tens of thousands of meatpacking workers were getting sick and many were dying, the USDA gave permission for many poultry, beef, and swine slaughter plants to increase their production line speeds—thereby forcing workers to stand closer together rather than father apart.

“Workers, their families, and their communities—and especially Black and brown workers and other communities of color—paid a huge price when the meat industry failed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A study published by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that this failure was associated with between 236,000 to 310,000 COVID-19 cases—and 4,300 to 5,200 deaths—just in the first few months of the pandemic (as of July 1, 2020).

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in addition to this being a workers’ right issue, this is also a racial justice issue. The meat and poultry industry is built on the labor of workers of color. The CDC estimates that 87% of all infections in the meat industry occurred among people of color in the industry.

“The Act will affect policies implemented by the USDA during the previous administration as follows: temporarily suspend line speed waivers in meat and poultry plants; block funding to implement line speed increases in hog slaughter plants; and require the issuance of an accountability report to document whether the industry implemented worker safety protections and to evaluate how the relevant agencies in the previous administration responded to the outbreaks of COVID-19 in the industry.

“This legislation is a landmark in the advocacy of meat and poultry workers, organizers, and communities that have been demanding safer workplaces and accountability for employers and government agencies that failed to put basic safety measures in place during the COVID-19 crisis. The voices and direct actions of these communities laid the groundwork for federal action.

“The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the racial inequities in housing, healthcare, and the workplace. Big Meat’s commitment to profits for a few instead of preventative and protective safety protocols to protect hundreds of thousands of meatpacking workers during the greatest public health crisis of our time exemplifies why it’s critical to hold both the industry and government accountable for practices and policies that endangered workers and their communities. Accountability must be a part of a just and inclusive recovery.

“The Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act is a critical first step toward ensuring worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to working with Congress and the Biden-Harris administration to secure safety protections for the nation’s meat and poultry workers by revoking all existing line speeds waivers and relinquishing any further rulemaking that increases line speeds in the meat and poultry industry; and by promulgating and enforcing a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

This blog originally appeared at NELP on March 11, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. 


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Economy Gains 379,000 Jobs in February; Unemployment Down to 6.2%

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The U.S. economy gained 379,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.2%, according to figures released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In response to the February job numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

Last month’s biggest job gains were in leisure and hospitality (+355,000), health care and social assistance (+46,000), retail trade (+41,000) and manufacturing (+21,000). The biggest losses were in construction (-61,000), local government education (-37,000), state government education (-32,000) and mining (-8,000). Employment changed little in other major industries, including wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities and other services.

In February, the unemployment rate increased for Black Americans (9.9%). The unemployment rates for teenagers (13.9%) and Asians (5.1%) declined. The rates for Hispanics (8.5%), adult men (6.0%), adult women (5.9%) and White Americans (5.6%) showed little or no change.

The number of long-term unemployed workers (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) barely changed in February and accounted for 41.5% of the total unemployed.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on March 5, 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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Prepared Remarks: Sanders Speaks on the Urgency of Raising the Minimum Wage and Passing the American Rescue Plan

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the need to pass the American Rescue Plan Act and offered an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Mr. President, I rise today to offer an amendment to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a 5-year period and I will be speaking on that amendment in a moment.

But before I do that, let me begin my remarks by talking about why this reconciliation bill that we are debating today is so important and why we need to pass it as soon as possible.

Let’s be clear.  Today, in America, we are living through one of the worst economic crises in the modern history of America and the worst public health crisis in more than a hundred years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the country.  Meanwhile, over 90 million Americans today are either uninsured or under-insured and can’t afford to go to a doctor when they get sick.  The isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in mental illness.

During the pandemic, 63% of American workers have been living paycheck to paycheck, including millions of essential workers who put their lives on the line each and every day for totally inadequate wages. 

More than 23 million Americans are unemployed, under employed or have given up looking for work, while hunger in this country continues to soar.

Because of lack of income, millions of Americans owe thousands of dollars in back rent and many of them face the threat of eviction.  This is on top of the 500,000 who are already homeless.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in this country are becoming much richer, and income and wealth inequality is skyrocketing.  Incredibly, during the pandemic, over 650 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion.

As a result of the pandemic education in this country from childcare to graduate school, is in chaos.  The majority of young people in this country have seen their education disrupted and it is likely that hundreds of colleges will soon cease to exist.

In this moment of unprecedented crises, the Senate must respond through unprecedented action.   

Mr. President, for too long Congress has responded to the needs of the wealthy and the powerful.  Now it is time to respond to the needs of working families – black and white, Latino, Native American and Asian American.

That is what this reconciliation bill is all about.

This Budget Reconciliation bill that we are debating today will enable us to aggressively crush the pandemic which has already taken over 500,000 lives – and enable the American people to return to their jobs and schools.

It will establish a national emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into the arms of our people as quickly as possible.

It will allow us to keep the promises we made to the American people and increase the $600 in direct payments for working-class adults and their children to $2,000.

What that means is that a typical family of four would get a direct payment of $5,600.

The Budget Reconciliation bill that we are considering today will provide $400 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits to over 10 million Americans until the end of August.

Further, Mr. President, all of us know that we have a childcare crisis in America.  This Budget Reconciliation bill will provide the resources necessary to provide childcare to 875,000 kids in America.  

It will expand the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 and to $3,600 for kids under the age of 6.

And by taking these steps we will be cutting the child poverty in half.  Let me repeat that.  If we pass this bill, we will cut child poverty in the United States of America by 50 percent.

Further, this bill will provide $350 billion to prevent mass layoffs of public sector workers in state and local governments. 

At a time when over 90 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, this bill will enable the Senate to substantially increase access to health care for millions of Americans, including a significant expansion of Medicaid.  

It will allow more Americans to receive the primary care that they need through a $7.6 billion increase in funding for community health centers.  It will address the serious shortage of doctors and nurses in rural areas and inner cities by expanding the National Health Service Corps.  And it will make sure our veterans receive the healthcare they have earned and deserve by increasing funding at the VA by $17 billion.

In addition, Mr. President, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we can no longer tolerate hunger in America and the long bread lines that have stretched mile after mile during the pandemic.

This bill will provide nutrition assistance to tens of millions of hungry families with children, the disabled and the elderly.

Further, Mr. President, this bill will provide rent relief, utility assistance and mortgage assistance to millions of tenants and homeowners who are in danger of eviction and foreclosure.  

It will begin to address the crisis of homelessness in America.

Further, Mr. President, all of us must acknowledge that there is a pension crisis in America today.  As a result of the greed on Wall Street, workers and retirees in multi-employer pension plans are in danger of seeing their retirement benefits cut by as much as 65 percent.  That is unacceptable. 

When a worker is promised a pension after a lifetime of work that promise must be kept.  This bill will provide the resources necessary to prevent the pensions of millions of Americans from being cut.

Mr. President, not only is this $1.9 trillion emergency COVID-relief package the right thing to do from a moral perspective and a public policy perspective, it is exactly what over 70 percent of the American people want us to do.

But, Mr. President, because of an unfortunate and misguided decision by the parliamentarian, this reconciliation bill does not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In my view, an unelected staffer in the Senate should not be in charge of determining whether 32 million workers in America receive a raise.

It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was considered to be consistent with the Byrd Rule, while increasing the minimum wage is not.

Therefore, Mr. President, I am offering an amendment today with Majority Leader Schumer, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Ron Wyden and many others in this Chamber to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

This amendment is similar to legislation which has been co-sponsored by 38 members of the Senate and legislation which has already passed the House. 

This amendment is supported by some 300 national organizations including the AFL-CIO and virtually all of the major unions in our country. 

And because raising the minimum wage to a living wage will significantly benefit women and people of color it is supported by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Organization for Women, UNIDOS, the American Association of University Women, Indivisible, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the National Women’s Law Center.

And while raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will mean a wage increase for over 30 million Americans, given the fact that nearly 50% of Black and Latino workers earn less than $15 an hour, it will be a huge help to those communities.

Let’s be clear.  This is the richest country in the history of the world.  We can no longer tolerate millions of our workers being unable to feed their families because they are working for starvation wages.  

Mr. President, nobody in America can survive on $7.25 an hour, $9 an hour or $12 an hour.  We need an economy in which all of our workers earn at least a living wage.

It is a national disgrace that Congress has not passed an increase in the minimum wage since 2007 – 14 years ago.

It is totally unacceptable that the minimum wage has lost over 30 percent of its purchasing power since 1968.

Yes. Now is the time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage – at least $15 an hour.  A job in the United States of America should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.

And when we increase that minimum wage to $15 an hour we will be giving over 32 million Americans a much needed raise. 

In fact, if this amendment becomes law, the average low-wage worker in America would receive $3,300 in additional income – each and every year.

And let’s be clear.  More than 60 percent of the American people support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  This is not a radical idea.  This is what the American people want.

Since 1998, every time a state has had an initiative on the ballot to raise the minimum wage it has won – no matter if that state was red, blue or purple.

In November 61% of the people in Florida – a state Joe Biden lost by 3 points – voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

8 states and over 40 cities have adopted laws to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Just a few days ago, the House did the right thing and passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Now, this issue rests in the Senate. 

We must understand that the issue of starvation wages is a national emergency.  We must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In the last few days, I have heard some concerns from my colleagues about one part of our amendment and that is the provision to raise the tipped wage which now stands unbelievably at $2.13 an hour.  Yes, the federal minimum wage for waiters and waitresses, barbers, hair stylists, parking attendants and others is at $2.13 and has not been raised since 1991 – 30 years ago.

The proposal in this legislation would raise that tipped wage from $2.13 an hour to $14.95 over a seven year period – something which is desperately needed.

The National Restaurant Association, a very powerful lobbying organization has suggested to Members of Congress that this legislation is opposed by restaurant workers and would be harmful to their interests.  This is not true.  One Fair Wage, an organization representing service employees has just delivered to the White House a petition with 140,000 signatures from service workers who are demanding that they receive the same minimum wage as every other worker.

Polling among service employees and non-service employees also supports the reality that Americans want our waiters, waitresses and other service employees to get a fair minimum wage.

Now I have heard from some that people who are working in the service industry are doing really well and they don’t need an increase in the minimum wage.  The tips that they are receiving are covering all of their needs.  Really?

Today, 70% of tipped workers are women who suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the US workforce, use food stamps at double the rate, and suffer from the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry because they must tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families in tips.

Further, let us be very clear, the idea of moving tipped wages to the same level as the overall minimum wage is not a radical idea.

It already exists in seven states including California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, and Minnesota.

And I should point out that all of these states experienced a growth in the number of small businesses and restaurants after they abolished the tipped minimum wage.  And guess what?  Waiters and waitresses in these states received more in tips, not less.

Let’s talk about how the pandemic has affected tipped workers. In many states where the tipped minimum wage still exists, tipped workers did not even qualify for unemployment because their wages were too low.

And let’s be clear.  In an industry where more than 6 million people have lost their jobs, over 60% of sub-minimum wage earners could not get unemployment benefits because the state and federal government denied them benefits for not making enough earned income. At the same time, as restaurants re-open the CDC has declared restaurants as the most dangerous place to work, and now servers are responsible for enforcing new rules and protocols around social distancing and wearing masks. 

The restaurant industry has some of the highest rates of sexual harassment. In a workplace where 70% of the workers are women, and where they rely on their customers to determine their wages, women are often expected to withstand sexual harassment in order to get paid. 

In states where the sub minimum wage has been eliminated sexual harassment has been cut in half. And that is exactly what we should be doing on the federal level.

Mr. President, in my view, it all comes down to this. Which side are you on? Are you on the side of the working people in America who desperately need a raise? Or are you on the side of the wealthy and the powerful who want to continue exploiting their workers and paying starvation wages? It ain’t more complicated than that.

I urge my colleagues to stand with the working class of America. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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Gig workers could end up losers in Covid relief bill

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Airbnb, Etsy and other pillars of the gig economy are shaping up to be rare losers in Democrats’ coronavirus relief package.

Buried in the legislation are provisions that will require them to provide a lot more information to the IRS about the money millions of people earn through their platforms, which is likely to bring in billions of dollars more in federal taxes.

That will generate cash Democrats can use to reduce the total cost of their stimulus plan.

But the industry says it’s getting ambushed, complaining it didn’t even know lawmakers were planning the tax crackdown until shortly before it was approved last week by the House. Company officials worry that asking people for their Social Security numbers — which the companies will need to produce the tax documents — and raising the specter of the IRS will scare many away from their platforms.

“We’re concerned that the proposal could unintentionally dissuade many casual and one-time sellers, who could be forced to share their Social Security number with online platforms before listing anything for sale,” said a spokesperson for Etsy. That could “turn away would-be entrepreneurs at a time when many desperately need the extra income.”

It’s not entirely clear who pushed for the provisions, though efforts to require more reporting by the industry aren’t new. A spokesperson for the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

The wrinkle comes as Senate Democrats debate the stimulus plan, which lawmakers aimed to get to President Joe Biden’s desk by March 14, when expanded jobless benefits expire. Much of the focus on the stimulus has been on its winners, though there would be a few losers as well.

For those in the sharing economy, the issue is provisions that would dramatically reduce the threshold at which companies like eBay, GrubHub, Doordash and others would have to report to the IRS the earnings of people who use their platforms to make money. The users would also have to be given the information.

Currently, that’s only necessary when someone earns more than $20,000 through at least 200 transactions. Democrats would drop that to anyone earning more than $600, regardless of the number of transactions.

That’s projected to generate a lot of money — $8.4 billion over the next decade, according to an official forecast — because people are more likely to pay taxes on their earnings when they know someone else is telling the IRS how much they made.

Unlike more traditional jobs, there is relatively little independent reporting of how much people in the gig economy earn. Many in service-related businesses are treated by their employers as contractors, for example, so they may not be having taxes withheld from their pay. They’re supposed to instead be paying estimated taxes each quarter.

Others, like people selling goods on eBay, Etsy or Facebook, are just average people trying to make some extra cash.

Many may not track how much they’ve earned or realize that it’s subject to tax, in part because they don’t make enough to trigger the current income reporting requirements, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said in a report last year.

“Platform workers may not receive information on their earnings, creating compliance challenges for them and enforcement challenges for IRS,” GAO said.

That makes the area ripe for tax cheating.

The issue has been on lawmakers’ radar for several years, though much of the focus had been on a competing proposal by Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). He has a more sweeping plan that would deal with things like worker classification rules while also imposing tougher income-reporting requirements, although not as stringent as Democrats are proposing.

Industry lobbyists say they did not anticipate Democrats swiping Thune’s idea and repurposing it for their coronavirus measure.

Said Thune: “I will continue to support a comprehensive approach to truly help workers in the gig economy.”

Proposals to raise money via so-called third-party reporting have long been popular with lawmakers searching for cash because they generate revenue but are neither tax increases nor spending cuts. And the $8.4 billion the gig worker proposal raises helps keep Democrats within their $1.9 trillion budget for the coronavirus relief.

The industry says it does not condone tax cheating. But it says Democrats’ reporting threshold is too low and would affect too many people who only sometimes use their platforms.

The companies say the tax requirements may come as a surprise to many, who might not understand what is being reported. The IRS form the companies would use — the 1099K — would report the gross amount of money someone has earned.

That isn’t necessarily what they’d have to pay tax on, though. The tax would only apply to their profits, after their own costs or expenses are deducted.

So if someone sold a bike on eBay for $800, for example, they’d get a form showing that. But if they had originally paid $1,000 for the bike, they likely wouldn’t owe the IRS.

“This is not about skirting tax obligations,” said Katie Vlietstra, vice president for government relations and public affairs at the National Association for the Self-Employed.

“A lot of people are cobbling together different ways to make it to the next paycheck,” she said.

“And this is going to be whiplash for a whole community of people.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Brian Faler is senior tax reporter at Politico. Before coming to Politico in 2013, he was a congressional reporter at Bloomberg News. Before that, he was an assistant to the late, great David Broder at the Washington Post.


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COVID-19 has the child care industry in dire crisis, but there are two big reasons for hope

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The child care industry and the workers in it—overwhelmingly women, many of them women of color—have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Really hard. But now there are two big reasons for hope, thanks to child care funding in the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House and to a rush of states opening up vaccinations to child care workers.

After losing 400,000 jobs early in the pandemic, the industry hasn’t fully rebounded. In December 2020, there were still nearly 175,000 fewer child care jobs than there were in December 2019. In an industry that operates on extremely tight profit margins, enrollments remain down due to both reduced class sizes for social distancing purposes and parents keeping their kids home rather than risking group settings, while expenses for personal protective equipment and cleaning are up.

According to a December study from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 56% of child care centers say they are “losing money every day that they remain open.” The first glimmer of hope on that front came at the end of December, when the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $10 billion to child care, and that money is going out. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans this week for $303 million in federal money, including $140.7 million to support providers who have lost enrollment and $87 million in increased payments for providers who participate in subsidized care. 

But the COVID-19 relief package the House passed includes much more help: $39 billion. And, HuffPost’s Emily Peck reports, “the money is retroactive, so centers that are already in debt or behind on their rent or mortgage payments can catch up.” 

While Senate Republicans have objected to many of the provisions in the relief bill, and intend to do everything they can to delay its passage, they haven’t targeted the child care money, so there is hope that help is on the way.

There’s a more individual form of hope, too, for child care workers. Following President Biden’s call for teachers and child care workers to be vaccinated (or have gotten at least one shot) by the end of March, pharmacies participating in a federal vaccination program opened up eligibility to those groups across the country, regardless of whether they were yet eligible under state guidelines. But that wasn’t all. 

A series of states quickly moved to open up their own vaccination programs to teachers and child care workers, including Massachusetts (where Republican Gov. Charlie Baker made clear he wasn’t happy about it), Washington state, and Texas. Prior to Biden’s push, teachers and child care workers had already heard that they would soon become eligible in OhioVermont, and New Jersey as the states continue to expand their vaccinations.

None of this is the end of problems for the industry or for its low-paid workers. Even before the pandemic, turnover was extremely high in daycare centers, and that’s only gotten worse during the pandemic. Median pay for child care workers is $11.65 an hour, according to one recent study. And despite the low pay, reliable, high-quality child care is not affordable for many families, keeping some women out of the workforce (at cost to their lifetime earnings) or leaving families with a series of bad choices. 

The pandemic has shown that child care is absolutely an economic issue, with increased work absences due to child care problems over the past year and many parents of young children—again, especially mothers—dropping out of the paid workforce entirely over it. There’s an immediate crisis here, but there’s also a long-term problem. It would be great if we could use the crisis to draw attention to the problem and look at longer-term fixes. But in the short term, keeping child care centers open and protecting their workers from COVID-19 are big steps.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on March 5, 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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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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