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5 Tips to Make Video Meetings Fairer to Anxious Employees

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Video calls may have taken over as the meeting method of choice during the pandemic, and the surge in remote work means that they won’t be going away any time soon. Many people appreciate the convenience and flexibility of being able to show up on time no matter where they are physically. Still, it would be wrong to assume that everyone is entirely comfortable with this new working method.

It’s not always easy to tell who might be struggling with the new meeting schedule. For example, some employees that are more than comfortable meeting in person may be anxious about appearing on camera. On the other hand, people more than happy to chat for hours on the phone may still be coming to terms with the concept of online meetings.

Managers who are already comfortable with online meetings may be surprised to learn that one study suggests that 73% of people suffered from Zoom anxiety in 2020. A further study indicated that worries over backgrounds, appearance, and speaking over someone all play a part and virtually equally between males and females.

Essentially, the majority of people still have concerns about meeting online. Nevertheless, it’s a crucial component of adjusting to remote work, so what can you do about it? Here are five ways that you, as a manager, can promote a comfortable video calling experience for everyone involved.

1. Make Being on Screen Optional

Many employee concerns around video calls stem from the thought of being on screen. While comfortable in the office, their webcam acts as a window into their home. One of the quickest ways to make everyone more comfortable is to consider appearing on camera optional.

Some people like to be able to see who they’re talking to. Others want to ensure they have the full attention of the room. However, it’s time to accept that employees are often responsible and eager to do as their employer requires, and appearing on a screen shouldn’t make or break their efforts.

It may require additional trust from some managers, but the benefits are clear. Body language can be overrated on video calls, too – in some cases, it’s easily misinterpreted. Some employees might be concerned about this happening to them, but accepting that cameras aren’t essential to productivity can eliminate much of the anxiety associated with these calls.

2. Encourage Flexibility

Try not to get into the habit of scheduling video calls at short notice. This can cultivate an opinion among employees that they are expected to be at their desks at all times. That in itself can be a significant cause of anxiety, especially for those that have struggled to adapt to remote work and have altered their routines as a result.

It might make sense to implement an official policy on video meetings, such as providing at least 24 hours’ notice or potentially even banning them on specific days. There’s also evidence to suggest that it may be time to make all meetings optional, although this won’t work for every organization, especially those with just a handful of key people.

Giving people time to prepare for an upcoming meeting can ensure their schedule is free and that they’ve taken whatever steps work for them to make them feel more comfortable on screen.

3. Make it Your Job to Promote Social Interaction

There’s always a risk that anyone that misses out on video calls through anxiety may exacerbate their issues by reducing overall social contact. Like any competence, it is possible to lose social skills over time when left unused.

Video calls can replace face-to-face meetings, but they’re also a great way to keep up at least some of the more sociable interactions from the workplace. It may sound counterintuitive to arrange additional calls for those suffering from anxiety, but many people perform better under social circumstances than professional ones.

These meetings really should be optional, but someone needs to take the lead in ensuring they’re available for people that wish to attend. As a leader, there is no better candidate than you.

4. Make a Point of Mentioning Mental Health

Mental health is not a workplace taboo. On the contrary, many managers consider it part of their job to ensure that people feel good as issues can lead to a reduction in performance.

Most employees would rather not discuss their personal mental health, especially in front of groups. However, some are even anxious about broaching the subject at all. Make it clear on video calls that you’re aware of how remote work can affect people and that you’re more than happy to arrange for assistance.

If you’re comfortable providing that assistance yourself on a one-to-one basis, then do so. If not, ensure that you have someone you can send employees to for help. Such a seismic change in working habits affects everyone differently. Even if they merely need reassurance that their camera and microphone setup works, it can significantly improve their confidence levels.

5. Support Employees at their Own Pace

Some employees will never forget the first day they didn’t even have to get out of their pajamas for work. Others may still struggle to find a routine that works for them months after commencing remote work.

It’s simply impossible to support a team based on a timetable. There’s every chance that no two employees will be at an identical stage of adaptation. This does require flexibility on a manager’s part, but it should be viewed as an opportunity.

Every instance of providing customized support to an employee is a learning experience, and the more involved you become, the easier it will be going forward.

For example, if an employee who has never appeared on video decides to switch their camera on, don’t immediately view it as cause to make a big deal out of it – that may be the last thing they want. Instead, follow-up with them to ask how they felt and understand if there’s anything else you can do to make them comfortable in the future.

Wrapping Up

While people are becoming more comfortable with Zoom, Teams, and other video meeting apps every day, their usage represents a colossal shakeup in work patterns. The key takeaways involve acceptance, support, and enabling people to progress at their own pace. Some people may never be truly comfortable with the concept, but it is only fair to do all you can to encourage them to reach their potential, just as you would do with any other aspect of their working life.

About the Author: Amy Deacon is a business coach and speaker who creates solutions for businesses seeking to change attitudes and routines to boost productivity throughout the workplace.

This blog is printed with permission.


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WHY IMMEDIATE AND LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT REFORM IS A MATTER OF RACIAL AND GENDER JUSTICE

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The expanded pandemic unemployment programs have been a critical lifeline for tens of millions of workers during the pandemic, but their necessity and success highlight the gaping holes and longstanding inequities in an intentionally under-resourced unemployment insurance system.

Government has a responsibility to provide economic security for people, beyond times of crisis, and it has to listen and be accountable when people organize and advocate for needed reforms that grant this security. When the pandemic hit, the unemployment insurance system in the US was in dire need of immediate reforms that would address the needs of those most impacted. In March 2020, far too many jobless workers fell into a woefully neglected unemployment system that was ill-equipped to meet their needs. As a result, Congress passed temporary programs to address the biggest gaps in the program, including coverage for app-based and part-time workers and those with caregiving responsibilities, expanded benefit duration and increased weekly benefit amounts. And as a result of jobless workers organizing to hold their government accountable, Congress extended these crucial programs twice.

In 2021 alone, the unemployment insurance system has served as a vital lifeline for over 53 million workers and injected almost $800 billion into the economy. At the height of the pandemic, nearly 16 million workers simultaneously relied on these federal pandemic programs and would otherwise have been shut out of the unemployment program entirely. Now with these temporary programs ending on Labor Day, an estimated 7.5 million people will lose their unemployment benefits entirely.

The US labor market and unemployment insurance program were designed to prioritize white male workers. As a result, Black workers and other workers of color have faced racist hiring and firing practices, longer periods of unemployment, and over-representation among unemployment claimants.

Ending the temporary programs that addressed some of the gaps that kept Black unemployed workers and other jobless workers of color from acquiring unemployment insurance will have devastating impacts on these communities. Currently, Black workers experience 8.2 percent unemployment and Latinx workers experience 6.6 percent, compared to 4.8 percent unemployment for white workers.

Similarly, with the continued rise of the Delta variant as the federal programs end, people with generational caregiving responsibilities and school age children are left with impossible choices, and women who in particular do more care work, will be left with no support as they attempt to care for their families and return to work. Mothers across the country were forced from work to care for children and their ongoing caregiving responsibilities continue to stop them from being able to return to the labor force. The change in labor force participation is particularly dramatic for single mothers: by June 2021, the labor force participation rate of single mothers in their prime working years was still 5 percentage points lower than it had been in January 2020. The pandemic unemployment programs provided temporary support for these women, but with benefits expiring they again will be shut out of our outdated unemployment system that simply does not serve their needs.

Disabled and immunocompromised workers and their family members who are unable to return to work due to health and safety concerns will also face the same fate – being left with no support as delta surges. These workers faced some of the greatest challenges during this pandemic and our system should not shut them out, especially as emergency rooms and ICUs continue to be overwhelmed.

We cannot afford to continue to rely on temporary fixes that expire based on arbitrary dates rather than worker and economic needs. Rather, we must transform the unemployment insurance system to serve all workers at all times, whether the country is in a public health or economic crisis or not. As Congress enters the reconciliation process, we must continue to demand that elected leaders lay the groundwork for this transformation by enacting bold, structural UI reform including expanded coverage, increased minimum benefit duration and increased benefit amounts that are in line with basic living expenses. Without these measures, we cannot have an equitable recovery.

About the Author: Jenna Gerry, as a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, supports NELP’s efforts to end systemic racism in our social insurance system by providing legal and technical assistance to grassroots organizing groups and reformers to develop new worker informed and centered strategies to improve state and federal policies, build worker power, and improve jobless workers’ access to unemployment insurance Jenna is a proud member of the NELP Staff Association, NOLSW, UAW, LOCAL 2320.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on August 31, 2021. Reprinted with permission.


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How Businesses Can Prevent Workplace Injuries

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There are over 7 million work injuries each year that result in millions of dollars of medical payments and missed work time. And that’s just the reported injuries — we all know workers who don’t report incidents due to embarrassment, fear of consequences or lack of knowledge around their rights.

Employees should be safe at work and encouraged to report injuries without repercussions. Fortunately, there’s many things businesses can do to prevent workplace injuries and keep workers safe.

Here are some steps you can take and advocate for today.

Safe Materials Handling

We all want to be safe when we’re doing our jobs but unfortunately, some companies aren’t entirely honest about the materials involved or how safe they are.

Asbestos was a known problem for years but businesses covered up the risks to maintain their operations and profitability. This callous approach to others’ lives is inexcusable. So how can you protect yourself?

Almost everyone has access to a wealth of information about safety and materials simply by using the internet. Educate yourself and your coworkers about the materials you work with and how to handle them safely. You can advocate for specific personal protective equipment (PPE) or even take action against your employer if they’re exposing you to toxic materials.

Reasonable Work Hours

Most people understand that in manufacturing and other industries, overtime is sometimes required. However, you should never be required to work until you’re exhausted. Employees who are overtired or burnt out can make unsafe decisions and injure themselves or others.

If you feel like you’re burned out, don’t be shy about seeing a doctor. You can get a diagnosis related to how you feel, and it can impact what you need to do at work.

Advocate for reasonable work hours and talk to managers about the safety implications of overwork. By standing up for yourself and your coworkers, you can help create a safer environment for all.

Appropriate Safety Equipment and Signage

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific rules for what kinds of safety equipment, notifications and signage workplaces must have. These apply to industries from healthcare to construction, agriculture, factories and even ships.

According to OSHA, the most common safety violations involve standards for:

  • Fall protection
  • Communication of hazards
  • Respiratory protection
  • Scaffolding requirements
  • Ladder requirements

Ensure that your workplace has appropriate safety equipment and training, and that you and your coworkers stick to them. When you do, you’ll be much safer. 

If you feel that your employer or workplace is violating a safety standard, let your boss or manager know immediately. If they don’t take action, you have the right to file a complaint with OSHA, which will begin an investigation.

You have the right to a safe and healthful workplace.

This post is printed with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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As Devastating Plant Shutdown Looms in West Virginia, National Outrage Is Hard to Find

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Hamilton Nolan - In These Times

A union set to be wiped out by layoffs says politicians are missing in action.

Joe Gouzd is pissed. As the president of United Steelworkers Local 8?–?957 in Morgantown, West Virginia, he represents more than 800 of the 1,500 workers who are set to lose their jobs on July 31, when the Viatris pharmaceuticals plant in Morgantown shuts down for good. And though he is used to fights, he does not like feeling abandoned.

Ask Gouzd what he is hearing from his representatives in the federal government as the plant shutdown looms, and he’ll tell you, ?“Not a god damn thing.” 

“We’ve heard nothing,” he says. ?“We’ve heard all kinds of horse shit from A to Z.” 

This is a remarkable statement, when you consider that the closure of this one plant embodies an entire galaxy of issues that should make it a prime candidate for political intervention. It represents the often-lamented effect of offshoring: a decades-old factory whose jobs are being unceremoniously shipped overseas by the enormous conglomerate Viatris, which was formed in 2019 as the combination of Mylan and Upjohn and immediately set out to slash costs. 

It represents the human and economic toll of America’s industrial decline: Many of the union jobs at the plant pay $80,000 or more, more than twice what any of the workers who are laid off are likely to get if they stay in Morgantown and find a new job. An economic analysis by the Democracy Collaborative finds that the plant’s closure could cost the surrounding county more than 4,600 jobs in total and $400 million in wages in the coming year, in a county where the median income for individuals is less than $25,000 a year.

It represents the loss of America’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capability during a pandemic: Though the coronavirus made many politicians talk about the need for America to strengthen its own supply chain at home to avoid relying on foreign countries for medicines and pharmaceutical supplies, the union’s calls for the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to take over this plant that makes generic pharmaceuticals seem to have fallen on deaf ears. All indications are that the shutdown that has loomed for seven months will go forward as scheduled next week. 

And, on a raw political level, it would seem like the closure of a major factory in West Virginia?—?a state that has served as a political football for the past five years, and that is now the home to Joe Manchin, the Senate’s single most powerful member?—?would offer a prime opportunity for the Democratic-controlled federal government to score points in a red state, prove that Democrats can in fact deliver for the workers that Donald Trump paid lip service to, and throw a bone to Manchin all at once. 

But none of this has caused any concrete action from the federal government to save the plant. The story of the fate that awaits the hundreds of workers in Morgantown has not become a huge national story. A slow-motion disaster that could be the seed of a great bipartisan effort to save unionized American jobs in West Virginia is instead unfolding just as the company said it would when it announced the closure plans, when most of the country was distracted by the question of whether Donald Trump would actually leave office. Gouzd says that the politicians ?“are running away from us.” He dismisses West Virginia Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito as an unresponsive ?“blowup doll.” Joe Manchin, he says, gave the union members ?“two minutes of his time” several months ago, and has not done anything meaningful on their behalf. 

“He asked us if we still make penicillin,” Gouz says. ?“We haven’t done that for 20 years.” 

In a statement, Joe Manchin said, ?“For months, I have engaged in conversations with Viatris, Monongalia County, the Morgantown Area Partnership, and local and state leaders to find a solution that protects every single job.” (Since the plant’s 1,500 jobs are set to be eliminated in a week, any conversations he had were apparently fruitless.) 

The perceived lack of help is particularly noticeable because Joe Manchin has a very personal connection to this issue: His daughter, Heather Bresch, was the CEO of Mylan, the company that owned the Morgantown plant prior to the rebranding as Viatris. Bresch came under fire in 2016 for her company’s egregious price increases of EpiPens, which prompted a recent $345 million settlement after several class action lawsuits. Bresch herself retired last year after her company’s merger with Upjohn, earning herself close to $20 million during her last year on the job. The 855 unionized Viatris workers in Morgantown who are losing their jobs will receive two weeks of severance pay for every year that they had on the job. 

Our Revolution, the progressive political group, has been working for the past six weeks to elevate the profile of the workers in Morgantown, and try to win them anything it can. That work has been led by Mike Oles, an organizer who has worked on a string of similar plant closures across the country, beginning with the Carrier factory in Indiana that became a national political issue in 2016. In that case, there was a cell phone video of the company’s brutal layoff announcement that went viral; now, Oles says, companies often send workers home before making the announcements, and work strategically to bury the news. 

“This plant seems more saveable than Carrier was, even,” says Oles. ?“This idea that we’re sending 1,500 jobs to India to produce lifesaving medicines, in areas where we have concerns about supply chains… We can support a state that’s transitioning from fossil fuels. Why wouldn’t we try to keep pharmaceuticals in the state?”

The West Virginia state legislature passed resolutions calling on state leaders to keep the plant open, but Governor Jim Justice’s efforts to find a savior do not seem to have succeeded. In June, the White House issued a report calling a robust domestic pharmaceutical supply chain ?“essential for the national security and economic prosperity of the United States,” but that has not prompted any concrete action to keep the Viatris plant open. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” Oles says. ?“These jobs just don’t come back. Communities don’t bounce back from plant closings like this. I’ve seen it in five different states.” 

Adding to the grim situation is the fact that not only will the factory be shutting down?—?the union will as well. United Steelworkers Local 8?–?957 represents only the Viatris workers. After more than 40 years of existence, Gouzd says, the local will be closing after the plant does. 

Viatris said in a statement that the shutdown in Morgantown is a result of the company’s efforts to ?“optimize its commercial capabilities and enabling functions, and close, downsize or divest manufacturing facilities globally that are deemed to be no longer viable.” They add that the decision ?“in no way reflects upon the company’s appreciation for the commitment, work ethic and valuable contributions of our employees.”

The feelings of appreciation are not mutual. The mood inside the factory is ?“toxic,” says Gouzd. ?“The place is caustic. They’re ready to string somebody up by a tree.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 22, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. 


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At World’s Largest Hilton, Workers Fight for Jobs, Daily Cleaning

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This is one of two articles from Hawaiian hotel workers. Read the other, “Hawaiian Hilton Workers Fear Permanent Layoffs As Recall Rights Expiration Nears,” here.

Tourism drives Hawaii’s economy, and housekeepers are the heart of our hotels.

But as tourism is returning to Hawaii, only a few housekeepers are being called back to work because many hotels are not providing daily room cleaning—taking advantage of the pandemic to cut labor costs.

This leaves housekeepers like me, who aren’t called back, enveloped with worries. We’ve been furloughed for 15 months already. Where are we going to find a decent paying job like our UNITE HERE Local 5 union jobs, should we get permanently laid off? How will my family keep our apartment? We can’t go back to my sister-in-law’s two-bedroom apartment where we stayed for eight years when I was still working in a non-union company.

My furloughed co-worker at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Jhorina Ancheta, is a single mom with three kids is a furloughed housekeeper. “If there was daily room cleaning, more housekeepers would be called back to work,” she says. “If I can have my job back, I will be able to support my family the way it was pre-pandemic. We are only able to survive now because my bill and loan payments are deferred until September.”

DIRTY ROOMS HURT

Guests are spending hundreds of dollars a night in our hotel. Their room is supposed to be the cleanest and safest place to be. We, the housekeepers, are in charge of creating this atmosphere. A new study by HospitalityNet on hotel cleanliness shows that 79 percent of respondents are most concerned about their room’s cleaning and sanitation, while 91 percent are more likely to stay at a hotel that helps their employees who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, Hilton was named the number one place to work by Fortune magazine. But at the Hilton Hawaiian Village—the largest Hilton in the world—housekeepers who are currently working are suffering from stress and fatigue.

“It’s harder to clean a filthy room that hasn’t been cleaned every day, compared to a room that is being cleaned every day,” said Maria Luz Espejo, a housekeeper here for 18 years. “Sometimes we can’t finish the rooms in a timely manner, even if we skip our lunch break. I am not getting any younger, so cleaning dirty checkouts makes me suffer with body aches and joint pains.”

Housekeepers are ready to fight for our jobs and safety. We won’t stop until management works with us to resolve this. We will work together, passing leaflets to guests encouraging them to join our call to ask for their rooms to be cleaned daily.

VICTORIES

Smaller hotels like Queen Kapiolani and The Kahala Hotel in Honolulu and Sheraton Maui in Lahaina have implemented daily room cleaning.

The Kahala workers took numerous actions to voice their concerns to management regarding their working conditions, including daily cleaning.

“We found out the hotel was reopening in May 2020,” said Carmelita “Joy” R. Melegrito, a housekeeper at the Kahala. “We demanded regular meetings with management to prepare for the reopening. We had worker leaders in these meetings representing their departments, and I was there representing housekeeping. I shared with them that if we don’t have daily room cleaning, it’s going to be really hard for us to clean the rooms. It will take much longer to clean checkout rooms.

“I’m happy that we have daily room cleaning,” said Melegrito, “because it means less worry about our safety. I got two injuries pre-pandemic because I was rushing to clean a dirty room. If it was already hard before the pandemic to clean rooms, how much more [is it] now if there’s no daily cleaning?”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Nely Reinante is a housekeeper at Hilton Hawaiian Village and a member of UNITE HERE Local 5.


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A Wisconsin Hog Farm Would Produce 9.4 Million Gallons of Manure a Year. Nearby Residents Live in Fear.

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Crawford County is up against Roth Feeder Pig II, which would be the largest hog CAFO in the state and could permanently pollute local aquifers.

CRAWFORD COUNTY, WIS.?—?When a neighbor tells Carl Schlecht and Kat Tigerman about an industrial hog farm planning construction on the narrow ridge above their home, they think it’s a joke. The retired couple lives along the Kickapoo River in the heart of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, one of the most rugged and ecologically sensitive regions in the state, and a massive industrial polluter moving in was too much to believe. 

Now, Schlecht says, ?“It feels like an existential threat.” 

For the past two and a half years, hundreds of residents, farmers and environmental advocates in rural Crawford County have fought to stop or regulate the proposed farm, Roth Feeder Pig II. It would house more than 8,000 hogs, doubling the size of its sister operation to become the largest concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) for hogs in Wisconsin, and generate 9.4 million gallons of manure annually to be spread on nearby fields. 

The Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP), a collective of environmental scientists and advocates, warns the waste would endanger local waters. According to the CSP, the region’s sloping topography and fractured bedrock, along with an inadequate spreading area exacerbated by increasing rainfall, makes the area highly susceptible to water contamination. 

“Our aquifers in the Driftless Area?—?once they’re polluted, they’re polluted forever,” says Kelvin Rodolfo, CSP volunteer and science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. 

When the CAFO was proposed, the CSP rallied neighbors and took their concerns to the township and county boards. In December 2019, the county enacted a one-year moratorium on CAFO construction and tasked a special committee with researching potential impacts. The resulting 222-page report found that CAFO manure runoff could render groundwater undrinkable. 

The study points to Kewaunee County in northeast Wisconsin, a geologically similar region saturated with dairy CAFOs. There, 30% of private wells are unsafe to drink from because of high levels of nitrate and bacteria, such as E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). CSP, which runs a water monitoring program in Crawford, reports having already found MRSA in streams at Roth Feeder Pig I. 

Air pollution is another concern. In North Carolina, a state dominated by industrial hog farming, the National Academy of Sciences found air emissions from swine CAFOs are linked to roughly 89 premature deaths annually in Duplin County. Overall, the report found farm pollution causes more than 17,000 U.S. deaths per year, outnumbering deaths from coal plants.

The Crawford County report also notes stench, infrastructure damage, zoonotic disease and plummeting property values as potential impacts. “[CAFOs are] deadly, pretty much all around, ” says Janet Widder, a farmer serving on the report committee.

Wisconsin state law, like its 2004 livestock facility-siting law, has paved the way for easy CAFO expansion, and some Crawford County residents fear the new CAFO is inevitable. ?“There are people who right now are trying to sell their house and [move] out,” says Forest Jahnke, CSP program coordinator.

According to attorney Adam Voskuil at Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center, “[The siting law] removed a significant amount of local control.” Instead, there is a ?“one-size fits all” standard for CAFOs, and local governments are limited in enforcing anything stricter.

Per the law center, the siting law ?“has been used by the livestock industry to accelerate the growth of factory farming.”

Howard Roth, would-be owner of the proposed CAFO and a fifth-generation hog farmer in Crawford County, served as president of the Wisconsin Pork Producers Association, which has lobbied for deregulation, including the siting law. When reached for comment, Roth claimed he has taken the required precautions to prevent soil pollution and is not worried about air and water pollution. When asked about CSP finding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in his groundwater, Roth claimed his farm is not the source?—?because ?“only 1%” of his animals receive antibiotics.

Despite ongoing opposition, Crawford County’s one-year CAFO moratorium expired in December 2020. The county— among the poorest in the state— argued it couldn’t afford the research required by the siting law to try to prove the farm would pose health risks. Furthermore, the county fears Roth would litigate any potential regulation, another financial burden.

Just months prior in Polk County, Wis., industry groups sent a threatening letter to the county board hours before a vote on a CAFO moratorium extension there. The letter alleged an extension would violate the siting law, for which board members could face felony charges. While the Midwest Environmental Advocates has since argued that wouldn’t be the case, the board ended the moratorium.

The letter had a chilling effect on the Crawford County board, too, which tabled regulation discussions and suspended public comment. Now, community hope rests on intervention from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Throughout June, hundreds asked the DNR to issue an environmental impact statement, which could allow the agency to impose stricter regulations on the farm (such as requiring the installation of groundwater monitoring wells, making it possible to hold the farm liable for pollution).

Since 2014, Tyler Dix, permit coordinator at the DNR, only recalls two of Wisconsin’s 318 CAFOs having an environmental impact statement. Neither moved forward with construction.

Regardless of the outcome, some residents say, the fight is not over.

“When I’m not crying about it, it’s just staggering to me that this is what we have to fight,” Kat Tigerman says. ?“We’re not giving up the fight. Because we can’t.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 8, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Hannah Faris is associate editor at The Wisconsin Idea, an independent reporting project of People’s Action Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and In These Times.


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‘We Took Care of Each Other’: A Maritime Union’s Hidden History of Gay-Straight and Interracial Solidarity

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Jonathan Kissam – LAWCHA

Decades before the modern LGBTQ+ movement, a small but militant union of maritime workers on the West Coast with openly gay members and leaders coined a slogan linking discrimination against gay men, racial discrimination, and red-baiting. For the better part of two decades, the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union fought discrimination on the ships where its members worked and in society, until it was crushed by the same corporate and government forces that tried to destroy the United Electrical Workers (UE) during the Cold War.

The Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCS) was formed in 1901 by the workers who waited on passengers, carried bags, cleaned rooms, cooked meals, and served drinks on the passenger and cruise ships that provided both travel and leisure for the middle and upper classes. They fed crews and washed the dishes and pots and pans on ships of all types. They faced grueling conditions, often being forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with no overtime pay, and sleeping in substandard quarters they called “floating tenements.”

Many of the cooks and stewards were Black and Asian, but MCS, like too many unions at the time, restricted membership to white workers. And although a high percentage of the cooks and stewards were “queens,” as gay men preferred to call themselves at the time, the union rarely if ever stood up for them when they were taunted—or “queen-baited”—by straight workers.

This all changed during the great waterfront strikes of the 1930s, when both MCS and the longshore union, prodded by rank-and-file activists, realized the need to unite all workers in order to win against the powerful ship owners. Black and Asian workers joined the unions and the strikes, which were ultimately successful in establishing coast-wide contracts for MCS and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union—both of which joined the newly-formed Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Victory did not come without a cost. On July 5, 1934, known as “Bloody Thursday,” police killed two workers—a longshoreman and a cook—as the ship owners tried to reopen the port of San Francisco by force. The flowers at their graves were tended by an MCS member known as the “Honolulu Queen.”

‘IT’S ANTI-UNION TO RED-BAIT, RACE-BAIT, OR QUEEN-BAIT’

As MCS established its presence on the ships—and used its hiring hall to integrate formerly all-white crews—its members continued to face taunts and harassment for their sexual orientation, their race, and their politics from bosses, passengers, and members of the conservative Sailors Union of the Pacific.

Revels Cayton, a Black, straight steward who became an MCS official, told historian Allan Bérubé how the union worked to address this situation. “In 1936 we developed this slogan: It’s anti-union to red-bait, race-bait, or queen-bait. We also put it another way: If you let them red-bait, they’ll race-bait, and if you let them race-bait, they’ll queen-bait. That’s why we all have to stick together.”

Sticking together worked. Bérubé relates, “The insults keep coming, but the gay stewards are getting bolder because they know their union is watching their backs.” Stephen “Mickey” Blair, a white, gay MCS member told Bérubé, “Marine Cooks and Stewards took the dignity that was in each of us and built it up, so you could get up in the morning and say to yourself ‘I can make it through this day.’ Equality was in the air we breathed.”

A WALKOUT TO HIRE LUELLA LAWHORN

During World War II, the ships that MCS members worked on were converted to serve the war effort, carrying troops and munitions. MCS membership tripled. Many of the new members were gay men who want to serve their country in the fight against fascism but had been kicked out of the military for their sexual orientation. Bérubé writes, “Merchant seaman pay a high price during the war… Although they are civilians, they are killed at a higher rate than are servicemen in any branch of the armed services other than the Marine Corps.”

After the war, MCS continued its traditions of aggressive struggle and uniting all workers. Messmen’s wages tripled between 1945 and 1949. When MCS dispatched a Black woman, Luella Lawhorn, to work on the fancy passenger liner Lurline and the company refused to accept her, the entire stewards department walked off the ship. The company backed down, and Lawhorn became the first Black stewardess on a U.S. passenger ship in the Pacific. In 1949, recognizing that its white leadership didn’t reflect its multiracial membership (by 1949 more than half of the members were Black, and a significant number Asian), the union diversified its leadership within a year.

However, MCS soon fell prey to the same wave of Cold War repression that attempted to destroy UE, the ILWU, and other “Them and Us” unions. Along with UE, ILWU, and eight other unions, MCS was brought up on charges of “communist domination” and expelled from the CIO. The Coast Guard declared MCS activists as “security risks” and prevented them from taking jobs on ships. Other unions used homophobia and racism, as well as red-baiting, to try to destroy the MCS. Ultimately the union was absorbed into the conservative Seafarers International Union.

‘OUR HISTORY HAS BEEN ERASED’

Bérubé, who was working on a book about the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union at the time of his death in 2007, wrote that “Their history is unknown today because, through fear and intimidation, it was first rewritten as an un-American activity, then dismissed as an insignificant failure, and, finally, erased from our nation’s memory, as if what they had achieved had never even happened.”

“We were 50 years ahead of our time. We were so democratic this country couldn’t stand it,” Peter Brownlee, a white, straight MCS member told Bérubé. “The most important thing was not that we had gays. It was that an injury to one was an injury to all—and we practiced it. We took care of each other.”

Stephen Blair told Bérubé, “What many of you younger people are trying to do today as queers—what you call inclusion and diversity—we already did it 50 years ago in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union. We did it in the labor movement as working-class queens with left-wing politics, and that’s why the government crushed us, and that’s why you don’t know anything about us today—our history has been totally erased.”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on June 23, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Kissam is the communications director for the United Electrical Workers (UE).


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For Farmworkers, the Fight for the 8-Hour Day Isn’t Over

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Federal labor laws exclude farmworkers from overtime pay and other protections. After years of advocacy by farm labor groups, lawmakers in Oregon, Washington and Colorado are working to change that.

Oregon state Rep. Ricki Ruiz grew up the son of two farmworkers, and he remembers his family’s struggles vividly.

“We almost faced eviction five times because we didn’t have enough money for rent,” said Ruiz, a first-term Democrat. “We didn’t go to the grocery store; we went to the food bank. We didn’t have extra clothes.”

Ruiz hopes to change that situation for farmworkers in Oregon. He sponsored a bill that will mandate that farmworkers be paid overtime for any work beyond 40 hours a week.

“If this legislation was passed when I was a kid, we would have had less stress in our family and my parents wouldn’t have had to work 80 hours a week,” he said. “This will be life-changing for farmworkers. They will be able to make a living wage and support their families.”

The effort in Oregon follows bills passed earlier this year in Washington and Colorado to grant overtime pay to farmworkers. Lawmakers in Maine are considering a similar measure.

Currently, federal and most state laws exempt farmworkers from the overtime protections guaranteed to most other workers. Labor advocates say that precedent was set by the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which was written to exclude Black field workers in order to win the support of Southern Democrats. Today, 83% of the nation’s farmworkers are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey.

“The exclusion of farmworkers was rooted in racism and made possible by the feeling that it wasn’t necessary to protect African Americans,” said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and support group. “It’s hard to believe that the exclusions of farmworkers from overtime pay and labor rights would continue if the majority of farmworkers were Caucasian.”

Nearly half of all U.S. farmworkers lack legal status, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Just more than a quarter of farmworkers are U.S.-born, according to the agency’s numbers. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research think tank based in Washington, D.C., estimates about 10% are foreign workers in the United States on H2A temporary visas. The average farm wage was $13.99 an hour as of 2019, roughly 60% of the average non-farm wage. “The bias in agriculture is that labor needs to be as close to slavery as you can get it.”

Some lawmakers interviewed by Stateline said the overtime bills they sponsored would apply to workers on H2A visas, while others said theirs would not. The disparate rules in federal and state laws show the need for federal action, farmworker activists say. Some lawmakers also have proposed whistleblower protections because undocumented workers are unlikely to report wage theft if they fear retaliation.

Edgar Franks, a labor leader who picks raspberries and blueberries in Washington state, said overtime protections would not only boost wages, but also would keep families together.

“A lot of us grew up with our parents at work all day and our older family members taking care of us,” said Franks, political director for Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworker union.

Last year brought renewed attention to racial justice and the frontline workers who face health risks in order to provide essential services. In several states, that spotlight led to the recognition of the plight of farmworkers, who advocates say are among the most vulnerable groups in the country. Lawmakers’ push to end inequities in overtime law has drawn support from President Joe Biden. But they’re up against the politically powerful agriculture industry, which asserts that new wage requirements would devastate farmers.

“Incremental change for farmworkers, who are the most devalued human lives in our country, has always been an uphill battle,” said Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns with United Farm Workers, the labor union founded by Cesar Chavez and other organizers. “But no industry should feel entitled to use up a human body at a rate it’s not meant to endure.”

Agriculture industry groups say that farmers operate on thin margins, and they compete against other states and countries that grow the same products with less labor costs. They also note that farm work is seasonal and requires immense amounts of work during harvest and planting times, which they believe is grounds for the longstanding farm work overtime exemption.

“Overtime requirements, especially a blanket, standardized mandate when there is nothing standard about farm work, would make it increasingly difficult for farmers to remain competitive, leading to small farms going out of business,” wrote Allison Crittenden, congressional relations director at the American Farm Bureau Federation, in a statement provided after a Stateline request for an interview.

Washington’s Law

Earlier this year, Washington state lawmakers passed a bill that will grant farmworkers time-and-a-half overtime pay, phasing in a 40-hour threshold by 2024. The new law was a response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2020 that required dairy workers to be paid overtime. 

“The deep-seated bias in agriculture is that labor needs to be as close to slavery as you can get it,” said Rosalinda Guillen, an activist with Community to Community Development, a Washington-based organization that focuses on food sovereignty and immigrant rights issues. “The court recognized the racist structure of the agriculture industry.”

Agribusiness groups expected the court to rule similarly for other farmworkers, and they feared farmers would be required to pay workers retroactively for overtime worked in years past. The result was a bill that established overtime pay while protecting farmers from retroactive claims. It was a long-awaited win for farmworkers and progressive activists, supported—albeit begrudgingly—by the agriculture industry and its Republican allies. “No Industry Should Feel Entitled to Use Up a Human Body.”

“Knowing that the court was very likely to impose this on us, we were open to a discussion on this being legislatively applied, as long as it was not done overnight,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

Washington state Sen. Curtis King, the Republican who sponsored the overtime bill, said he did so to protect farm owners from retroactive payments, though he disagreed that the previous state law, passed in 1959, was evidence of systemic racism.

Despite sponsoring the bill, King still fears the overtime requirement could make it difficult for Washington farmers to compete with producers from other states or overseas.

“We can sit here all day long and say the going wage ought to be such and such for farmworkers,” he said. “You go try and pay it and stay in business and see what happens.”

Movement Elsewhere

At present, only six states—California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Minnesota and now Washington—offer any overtime coverage for farmworkers. Some of those states offer overtime only after 60 hours; California will phase in a 40-hour threshold by 2022.

Even though Washington’s law was forced by a court decision, farmworker advocates say it has renewed momentum for efforts in other states. Earlier this week, Colorado lawmakers passed the Farmworker Bill of Rights, which will give minimum wage and overtime rights to the state’s farmworkers. The measure also will allow workers to join labor unions, mandate rest and eating breaks, and offer whistleblower protections to workers who report unsafe conditions. 

“The rights this bill will restore to these workers are rights that are enjoyed by almost every other worker in the state,” said Colorado state Sen. Jessie Danielson, the Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, has indicated he will sign the bill.

In Oregon, Ruiz’s bill is still in committee, but he’s hopeful it will advance this session, aligning the state’s policy with neighboring West Coast states.

“There’s a majority of people of color working in the fields, and they’re the ones being excluded from these resources,” Ruiz said. “I believe folks are going to appreciate that this region is honoring farmworkers. It will attract more workers and keep current workers.”

Ag industry groups disagree. They say agribusinesses won’t be able to afford the extra wages, and the law will cause them to limit hours, split shifts and increase mechanization—forcing farmworkers to take on multiple jobs just to make the same money as before.

“We heard from hundreds of farmers saying they would not be able to afford the bill as it was proposed, and ultimately it would result in a tremendous amount of job loss and wage reduction,” said Samantha Bayer, policy counsel with the Oregon Farm Bureau, which opposes the bill. “It’s a false promise that this would result in more wages.”

Farm groups across the country have made similar predictions about overtime proposals in different states. Labor advocates view them as a threat to punish farmworkers.

“‘The food system will be destroyed, the agriculture industry will be destroyed’—they say that about every single benefit that is given to farmworkers,” said Guillen, the Washington activist. “They have essentially said that if they have to pay farmworkers overtime, they’ll cut their hours and pay them less. That is insidious racially biased behavior.”

Maine state Rep. Thom Harnett, a Democrat who has sponsored his own farmworker overtime bill, acknowledged that farming is a challenging industry.

“There’s a great deal of empathy for that industry, and I share that,” he said. “I just don’t share putting it on the backs of the workers to be the ones who suffer the most. Because of these exceptions, we have farmworkers who have been stuck in poverty for generation after generation.”

Farming groups say that overtime doesn’t make sense in an industry that requires immense amounts of work during seasonal periods such as planting and harvest time. To account for this, Hawaii’s law, for example, has a seasonality clause, which raises overtime thresholds during certain periods of the year. Farmers in Washington sought unsuccessfully to include a similar provision in their state’s bill.

“In agriculture, there are seasonal activities where you can safely work more for short bursts of activity,” said DeVaney, the fruit tree farming advocate. “There are periods of the year where we have longer hours worked, and the work is by nature physically demanding.”

Harnett noted that many itinerant farmworkers don’t get a reprieve from those cycles. Some laborers travel among states to find work in different regional growing seasons, often living in employer-provided housing.

“We hear that farming is a unique business, because there’s this intense period of planting and harvest,” he said. “For the farmworker, their life is that intense period over and over again.”

Harnett’s bill has passed through a House committee but has not yet received a vote before the full House.

National Efforts

Activists were encouraged last month when Biden issued a statement praising Washington’s farmworker overtime bill.

“For too long—and owing in large part to unconscionable race-based exclusions put in place generations ago—farmworkers have been denied some of the most fundamental rights that workers in almost every other sector have long enjoyed,” Biden said.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who has been a leading voice on the issue, reintroduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act last month, which would end federal overtime and minimum wage exemptions for farmworkers, although it would not apply to those on H2A visas. The bill is included in the Biden administration’s immigration plan.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 26, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Pew, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state. He’s won awards for investigative reporting and feature writing from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association.


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How the Covid Land Rush Is Hurting New Farmers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Healthcare Employers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Employers

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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