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They Wanted to Keep Working. ExxonMobil Locked Them Out.

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Mindy Isser - In These Times

The lockout began May 1, known in most parts of the world as International Workers’ Day. In a matter of hours, the ExxonMobil Corporation escorted 650 oil refiners in Beaumont, Texas, off the job, replacing experienced members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13?–?243 with temporary workers?—?and hoping to force a vote on Exxon’s latest contract proposal. USW maintains the proposal violates basic principles of seniority, and more than three weeks after the union members were marched out of their facility, they remain locked out.

“We would have rather kept everyone working until we reached an agreement,” Bryan Gross, a staff representative for USW, tells In These Times. ?“That was our goal.”

Because strikes and lockouts are often measures taken under more dire circumstances, either when bargaining has completely stalled or is being conducted in bad faith, USW proposed a one-year contract extension. But Exxon rejected the offer, holding out for huge changes to contractual language regarding seniority, safety and layoffs. ?“It’s a control issue,” Gross adds. ?“Exxon wants control.”

As the oil industry attempts to deskill (and ultimately deunionize) its labor force, refinery workers like those in Beaumont find themselves under siege. Not only is their industry buckling beneath the weight of a global health crisis, but climate change has come to threaten their very livelihoods. Many workers remain skeptical of existing plans for a just transition.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, refiners have taken drastic measures to offset steep drops in the price of oil by reducing production, selling assets and even closing some facilities. While the unionization rate in the oil and gas industry is currently higher than the rest of the U.S. workforce (15% compared with nearly 11%, per Reuters), BP, Marathon Petroleum Corporation and Cenovus Energy have cut labor costs by either downsizing or subcontracting to non-union workers.

Exxon appears to be following along. Local 13?–?243 member J.T. Coleman, who has worked at the Beaumont refinery for a decade now, fears that hiring so many of these non-union workers to operate the facility could get somebody hurt. ?“We’re familiar with the equipment,” he says. ?“They’re not trained like we are.”

USW has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board accusing Exxon of refusing to bargain, modifying their agreement with the union and coercion. Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from In These Times.

The complaints come at a time when the future of oil, in Texas and beyond, has never been more uncertain. In February, three severe winter storms walloped the state, killing 100 people and leaving millions without power. Similar storms hit Texas in both 1989 and 2011, but state lawmakers failed to heed calls from experts to upgrade the power grid at the time. When temperatures plunged below freezing this February, many sources of power in the state failed, including those generated from natural gas. 

Production at the Beaumont refinery was shut down for a week, but many of its operators continued their shifts, some staying in the plant for 24 hours at a time. ?“We weren’t set up for the freeze, so they were defrosting lines and pumps, de-icing stuff so they could get moving on the product again,” says Hoot Landry, a staff representative for USW. ?“But we don’t get any credit for that.”

Nearly 40 million barrels of oil were lost during the production freeze. Perhaps in a sign of things to come, refinery workers shifted from producing and manufacturing oil products to restoring power for those affected by the extreme weather.

The impact of these storms has not been lost on the Sunrise Movement, which has become a political home for young people in the fight against climate inaction. On May 10, 20 Sunrise Movement activists began a 400-mile march from New Orleans to Houston to demand the Biden administration adopt the Green New Deal.

“[Our members aim to] learn from our neighbors here in the Gulf South about what they’re facing, the solutions that they’re already pioneering, the fights they’ve won, and the fights they still need help fighting,” says katie wills evans, a volunteer local press coordinator for the group. ?“We’re doing all of that to bring attention to the need for a Green New Deal and a good jobs guarantee.”

If the Sunrise Movement ultimately succeeds in getting some version of the Green New Deal passed, then, in theory, the Beaumont refinery would be closed and members of Local 13?–?243 would be trained for different work. According to wills evans, these jobs would be ?“more fulfilling, more purposeful, less damaging to our planet and less dangerous to workers.”

“We want to work next to you,” wills evans continues. ?“We want you to make the same amount of money and have the protection of a union and have healthcare for your family.”

While oil workers and environmental activists are understandably suspicious of one another, wills evans believes they have more in common than they may think?—?namely, a shared enemy in oil bosses like Exxon. As Sunrise Movement activists make their way to Houston by the end of June, wills evans hopes they will meet with the locked-out refinery workers to offer their solidarity and support. 

“I’m the great granddaughter of a coal miner, I come from Appalachia where coal mining fed us,” wills evans says. ?“But [refinery workers] are on a picket line locked out right now, so can they say they have a good job?”

Good or not, neither the refinery workers nor USW staff who spoke with In These Times see oil jobs going anywhere any time soon. They don’t especially want them to go anywhere, either?—?even if they recognize the dangers of climate change. ?“I think we have to start moving towards a cleaner environment,” Gross says. “[But] oil is going to be around a really long time; I don’t think it is going to go away overnight.”

Prior to USW, Gross worked at a separate refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, which is par for the course in the Gulf South. Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi are home to more than half a million jobs in the oil and gas industry. And no matter how unstable these jobs may feel?—?no matter how destructive they may be to the environment long term?—?many communities rely on them for their survival.

“I would entertain other jobs, but I take pride in my work,” Coleman says. ?“I don’t work for Exxon because I love the company. I work for it for its benefits. And as long as those benefits exist, it’s going to be a part of my life.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to oil refiners aligning themselves with an organization like the Sunrise Movement is the lack of clarity surrounding a just transition. Many want to know what will happen to workers in extractive industries, and they fear promises made to them now will not be kept. Still, the lockout in Beaumont makes clear that a distinctly unjust transition is already underway: refiners are losing control over their worksite as employers seek to reduce their exposure in an increasingly unstable industry.

“We want to be back to work, but we want to do it with a fair agreement that is not solely beneficial to one side,” Coleman adds. ?“We are willing to work. We all want to return to work. But we want to do it with something that ensures our security, our seniority and our safety.”

But as climate change accelerates and weather patterns become more extreme, these jobs may never be safe or secure again.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 24, 2024. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.


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What Your Boss Doesn’t Want You to Know, and Where to Find It

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Tom Juravich | Labor Center | UMass Amherst

Given the wealth of information available online, conducting research on your employer is more possible than ever—and more important than ever, as firms become more complex and globalized.

There’s no reason we should ever begin bargaining or start an organizing campaign without a strong sense of who the employer is, how it generates its profit, where it is growing, who its decision-makers are, and where it is most vulnerable. This information is much easier to find than most people think.

More information is available on companies that trade on one of the stock exchanges, but there is still plenty of information on privately held firms and nonprofits. And this approach is relevant for firms both large and small, across a wide variety of sectors.

General Internet searching is not enough.

The mistake that many first-time researchers make is to jump onto Google and start looking for information about the company.

While general Internet searching can be helpful, it’s not a very efficient way to do corporate research. It’s easy to drown in all the information that’s out there, and what you’re finding is what the search engine has indexed for you. Plus, companies manipulate what shows up first on a general Internet search. Often you have to weed through hundreds of pages of marginal information before you get to real substantive information on your company.

You need a framework to direct your research.

To avoid getting overwhelmed and quitting, you need to know what questions you are trying to answer. And rather than hunting around, you also need to know the best places to find those answers.

That’s why we built the Strategic Corporate Research website (strategiccorporateresearch.org), a free resource to help labor, community, and environmental activists take a look inside the corporate world. It starts by providing a framework to direct your research.

The site lays out 24 questions to guide your investigation into the command and control of a firm, its operations, and its outside stakeholders. These include: Who are the stockholders? Who is on the board of directors? Who are their major suppliers and customers? What is their health and safety and environmental record?

Focus on primary documents.

For each of these questions we provide the key websites where you can find answers. Whenever possible, we focus on primary documents.

It might be tempting to rely on a website that gathers the information for you, for instance on CEO salary, but you are going to find the most accurate and up-to-date information in the primary documents that the company files with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). We provide a number of videos with screenshots that help first-timers navigate through websites including the SEC, OSHA, OpenSecrets (which provides information on the political donations of your employer), and many more.

Build a diverse research team.

Build a diverse team in your local or your workplace to conduct research on your employer. Include people from different shifts and different jobs; make sure women and people of color are represented. You want to demonstrate that the research team represents the whole union, not just a select few. This is critical for other members to see the information you gather as credible and actionable.

If one or more individuals have some prior research training, it’s great for them to step up—but they should take a mentoring approach so that everyone on the team is learning new skills. The more people we can bring along with us, the more capacity we have. This is a great way for rank-and-file members to become more involved in the union.

Adopt a brainstorming attitude.

It is critical to adopt an inclusive brainstorming attitude when conducting your research. We provide a Google document on the website (bit.ly/SCR24questions) which allows you to create your own copy of the 24 questions to guide your research. Break up the questions, work in small teams, and put all the information up there.

You never know how what you find out might connect with other pieces of information or how it can be used in the future. There will be time later to sort out contradictory information.
This process encourages everyone on the committee to participate and is critical in building your capacity as a team.

Analyze as you go along.

Don’t just gather information, but analyze it as you go along. Look for connections and for information that confirms what you’ve found.

For example, you may have found that two new board members come from a sector which you have already identified as a growth area for the company. This confirms that your research is correct and that the company is moving in this direction.

Work through what might be inconsistent or contradictory. This often comes up when looking at financials that get reported over several years. Make sure you are using the most up-to-date numbers.

Keep your campaign in mind.

It is easy to get excited about all the information you are gathering. You may have discovered that the company was fined by the Environmental Protection Agency or a key board member has been named in a number of lawsuits and judgments.

But the goal of strategic corporate research is not just to gather information, but to use this information to build a strong campaign and win. Be careful not to get sidetracked. You may have found some juicy information on the CEO, for example, but remember campaigns are rarely won by focusing on one issue. Keep researching and develop multiple points of leverage.

Our website provides a number of charts and resources to help you make your research actionable and plan an escalating campaign to bring pressure on the strategic targets you identify.

For example, you may have discovered that one division of your employer is the most profitable, so you shift the focus of your campaign to that part of the firm. Or you may have identified a highly vulnerable board member, so you design tactics to escalate against him. Take the time and work collaboratively to shape a multifaceted campaign building on all that you have learned.

Build new muscles.

If this kind of research is new to your local, it will take some time to build the skills and integrate them into the life of your union. But with some careful attention and teamwork you will be surprised how fast rank-and-file members and leadership can gather and use basic corporate information in both bargaining and organizing.

It’s not enough just to put this research team together as you prepare for contract expiration. Once it’s operating, the team should continue to grow and build its capacity between contracts to put the local in an even stronger position for the next round of bargaining or your next organizing campaign.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on May 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tom Juravich is a professor of labor studies and sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week in the war on workers

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

If a worker steals from their employer, they can be fired or even face criminal charges. If an employer steals their workers’ wages, they … usually get to keep the money with no penalties. Wage theft is outrageously common, and it’s rarely treated as a serious civil violation, let alone a criminal one, despite taking money from people who desperately need it to get by. Minimum wage violations, for instance, are one common form of wage theft, and wage theft doesn’t hit all workers equally. According to the National Employment Law Project, “Black workers experience wage theft at three times the rate of white workers. Foreign-born workers experience wage theft at twice the rate of their U.S.-born counterparts. And women experience wage theft at a rate of 30 percent, compared to 20 percent for male workers.”

In 2017, an Economic Policy Institute analysis found that minimum wage violations stole $8 billion a year from workers—in just the 10 most populous states. In 2019, forced arbitration agreements denying workers the chance to make their case in court let employers steal $40 million from Maine workers, NELP reports.

NELP has an answer: retaliation funds. Retaliation funds should be set up by a labor enforcement agency, and workers could draw on them if, after they filed a wage theft complaint with the labor enforcement agency, their pay was reduced or they were fired. At that point, they’d get a one-time payment, and “If the enforcement agency eventually finds that the employer unlawfully retaliated, the employer should replenish the fund with a payment equal to three times the amount the worker received.” That would protect workers from retaliation, which would reduce their fears about reporting wage theft to begin with, and it would act as a disincentive to employers tempted to steal from their workers. Is there a blue state that will consider trying this out?

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 22, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Can a Driver Uprising Make Food Apps Deliver?

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Jonán Mancilla is standing on a Manhattan street corner under the awning of a shuttered salon, handing out stickers to his fellow food delivery drivers.

The sticker shows a masked bicyclist in silhouette—fist in the air, food cooler strapped to his back. It bears a Spanglish phrase the largely indigenous workers from Mexico and Guatemala have adopted to describe themselves: “Los Deliveristas Unidos,” or Delivery Workers United.

These immigrant gig workers—who toil for apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Relay—drew headlines in April when 2,000 drivers snarled traffic, whooshing on their e-bikes and scooters towards City Hall in the pouring rain.

They are demanding better wages and improved working conditions, including access to bathrooms and protection from theft and assault. They have a powerful ally in the building service union 32BJ SEIU, bolstering their existing partnership with a Brooklyn-based worker center called Worker’s Justice Project (WJP).

Estimates put the number of app-based food delivery drivers between 50,000 and 80,000 in New York City alone. Lionized as essential, immigrant workers have also been treated as disposable.

A year ago, when lockdowns allowed some workers the flexibility to work from home, others—especially low-wage immigrants in housekeeping, food service, and construction—were laid off and cast out into the streets. They needed a job, fast, with no-frills onboarding. This made them easy marks for temp agencies and unscrupulous contractors.

Among the most predatory were app-based companies, offering an endless supply of gigs and the convenience of signing up on a mobile phone. Legions of immigrant workers flocked to these platforms to schlep food and commodities to New Yorkers sheltering at home.

Now these workers are testing their newfound power in numbers, building up committees throughout the boroughs, and notching their first wins against the tech giants.

WHAT IT’S LIKE

“I get up at seven in the morning,” Mancilla tells me. “I drop my son off at school. At nine I enter the platform, leave at one in the afternoon, come to have lunch, go back to the platform again at two and finish at eight, nine in the evening.”

Twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks are common; the pay averages $300-$800 a week, The City reports. The bulk of the money comes from tips, but these often get stolen by restaurants to pay the app fee.

The 33-year-old Mancilla has the easy confidence of someone who knows his job well; he’s been delivering food for four years. He looks the part of an organizer. Workers on electric bikes beep at him as they drive by; others stop to chat, exchanging elbow-bump greetings. Many are relatives or from the same towns back home in Mexico, a common provenance that makes the outreach easier.

Some share stories of getting mugged or having their bikes stolen; safety is a major concern. “The problem is when you have to go to a building or to a public housing project where you know that your colleagues have already been assaulted,” Mancilla says, “and they send you there again.”

There’s also the problem of bathrooms. Adán, 23, who asked to use only his first name, argues that drivers have earned the right to use the restrooms of the restaurants that depend on them.

“Sometimes they send you to deliver 30 to 50 blocks with only a one-dollar tip,” he says. “But the platforms don’t tell the restaurants to allow us to use the bathroom.”

BADGE OF RECOGNITION

The sticker he is handing out has a design flaw, Mancilla points out: one arm is holding the wrong bike handlebar. Nonetheless, it’s doing its job as a visibility-builder. Delivery workers sport it on their bikes or helmets.

One worker told Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the WJP: “When we see this sticker, we know that we belong to each other—but not only that, I think the thieves are seeing these stickers, so they’re getting scared.”

The stickers are also a tool to build a contact list. Whenever activists hand one out, they ask the person’s name, phone number, and what app they deliver for. They’re expanding their outreach to include workers who use Amazon Flex to deliver groceries for Whole Foods.

WJP stepped in last summer. The group’s base is with construction and domestic workers. Its program includes safety classes and campaigns that have recouped tens of thousands of dollars in stolen wages. But in May it had become an emergency relief center—distributing personal protective equipment and mutual aid support to immigrant workers locked out of state relief.

As the pandemic brought new faces to WJP’s doors, Guallpa noticed many were app-based delivery drivers—and the working conditions they described were gruesome.

“They were sharing how they were carrying bottles of water to do their basic necessities, how they were treated by the restaurants, how they were pressured by the companies,” she says. As independent contractors, they didn’t have the same legal protections as employees. But “the apps were having full control of their lives.”

Soon it became clear there were vast networks of delivery drivers throughout the city. They had self-organized online through Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups based on country of origin and language. WJP offered to help conduct surveys in Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Mandarin, Spanish, and French Creole.

CHOOSING A TARGET

The first organizing challenge was identifying the right target.

Workers initially blamed the restaurants for denying them bathrooms, and the police for not keeping them safe. But WJP organized meetings to discuss strategy and do a power analysis. “The police is just one actor,” Guallpa argued. “They should do their jobs, but at the end of the day, they can’t give you what you need.”

They ran through a list of possible targets, including the mayor and city council members. The workers decided to focus on the powerful companies to which the restaurants had a contractual obligation: the apps.

The Deliveristas’ first public show of force was in October: a rally by 500-600 drivers carrying placards naming all the major food delivery apps. The negative publicity was enough to push DoorDash to meet with the drivers in December and expand bathroom access to 200 restaurants (in its network of nearly 5,000).

Mancilla says the pep talks from the WJP organizers keep him going. “Give it your best, guys!” he says they tell him. “Don’t let yourselves be defeated. Understand that without you, the companies wouldn’t exist.”

FASTER THAN POLICE

I meet up with some delivery drivers again on May Day in a park in Spanish Harlem, where they have gathered to unbosom their sorrow. Francisco Villalva, a 29-year-old delivery cyclist, was fatally shot in East Harlem in March during an attempted robbery.

The commemoration is organized by El Diario de los Deliveryboys en la Gran Manzana, or The Big Apple Deliveryboys’ Daily, another Facebook page set up by workers; they have called for “a day without delivery workers.” People sing Mexican ballads and corridos, and pass around plates of tamales and beans.

“Today our whole community is in mourning,” says Juan Solano from the Deliveryboys. He points out Villalva’s four surviving siblings, wearing white T-shirts bearing the face of their dead brother; they’re all app-based drivers, too. The park fences are festooned with bedsheets spelling out “Justice for Francisco and Stop Bike Thefts” and “We Are Tired of Not Being Heard for Not Having Papers.”

How can such deaths be prevented? The Deliveryboys want a stronger police response to attacks. Los Deliveristas share the same indignation, and attribute the tepid policing to their own undocumented status. But they have devised an alternative strategy.

On rapid-response networks via WhatsApp and Telegram chat groups, drivers report thefts and assaults to one another. Send out an urgent message with your location, “and all of a sudden you are going to see five or 10 people getting there and they help you,” Mancilla says.

Scroll through any of the Deliveryboys or Los Deliveristas Facebook pages, and you’ll find images of stolen bikes and live videos of drivers showing up to help their fellows on the scene of a mugging or accident. Mancilla said drivers started to realize the police wouldn’t come quickly when called—but their fellow workers would.

NEXT, A UNION?

In any growing movement there are conflicting approaches and tension points. Policing is one. Another is whether to form a union or stick to lobbying for legislative changes. Mancilla wants a union; he believes it would have the political muscle to make the police clamp down on bicycle thefts and assaults.

In the near term, the Deliveristas want a living wage, access to bathrooms, indoor rest stops, paid sick days, workers compensation for accidents, and protection against retaliation for inquiring about tip theft.

A package of five bills introduced at the city council in April would address some of these demands. One would fine restaurants for denying drivers bathroom access. Another would establish minimum pay per trip, modeled after the 2018 city ordinance that set a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. Another would allow drivers to set their own routes.

“There is no labor movement without organizing the new workforce, which just happens to be immigrant in New York,” Guallpa says. “Which is the exact same way the labor unions got started back in the day, right? They got started by immigrants.”

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on May 20, 2021

About the Author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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WHICH STATES AND CITIES HAVE ADOPTED COMPREHENSIVE COVID-19 WORKER PROTECTIONS?

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14 STATES HAVE ADOPTED COMPREHENSIVE COVID WORKER SAFETY PROTECTIONS SO FAR

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges in the United States, workers have continued to protest and organize for their safety and health—but action is needed at all levels of government, starting with the top. To date, the Trump administration—specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—has resisted issuing any workplace safety standards or requirements to protect workers from COVID-19 in the workplace. In the absence of federal leadership, some governors and state health departments have stepped up to expand worker protections.

OSHA has resisted issuing any workplace safety standards or requirements to protect workers from COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some states have issued executive orders with very specific worker protection requirements, and Virginia issued a first-in-the-nation Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers. Oregon and Michigan also have issued emergency standards. Other states have issued guidelines, some of which they intend to enforce. Some cities as well have issued protective ordinances for workers.

Many states’ executive orders (including the Virginia standard) require employers to heed the following:

  • ensure physical distancing of at least six feet between employees and their coworkers and customers;
  • provide face masks to all employees if maintaining six-foot social distance is not always possible;
  • require customer to wear face masks;
  • provide employees with other personal protective equipment in addition to face coverings;
  • improve ventilation;
  • provide employees with regular access to hand-washing and soap;
  • have hand sanitizer readily available to workers;
  • require deep cleaning after COVID cases are discovered in the workplace; and
  • notify workers when cases are found.

In some states, such as Oregon, Michigan, and Nevada, enforcement is handled by state occupational safety and health agencies; in others, by health departments, labor departments, and the attorney general’s office. Some states where federal OSHA has traditionally done enforcement are still figuring out how best to enforce these protections.

Inexcusably, the Trump administration has abandoned its responsibility to ensure that workers and the general public are safe in this pandemic. As the number of workers infected with and dying from this disease continues to grow, it’s clear that a voluntary approach to worker safety is not mitigating this public health disaster.

A voluntary approach to worker safety has failed to mitigate this public health disaster.

Even while workers continue to take major risks in speaking out and organizing in their workplaces, communities of color are paying the heaviest price for this federal policy failure. Although all workers on the job now or returning to work in the near future are at risk of illness, Black and Latinx workers and other workers of color, including immigrants, are more likely to be in frontline jobs. In addition, these communities have disproportionate rates of serious illness and death related to COVID-19, stemming from structural racism over generations related to healthcare and access to care. It is crucial that state and local policymakers step up to prioritize these workers and thereby further protect communities in this pandemic.

Below is a list of the 14 states that have adopted comprehensive worker safety protections (with links to more information). In addition to these, separate executive orders requiring face masks in the workplace have been issued by some governors (e.g., North CarolinaTexas, Massachusetts), cities (e.g., Raleigh, NC), and counties. Philadelphia has also issued the first citywide ordinance protecting workers from retaliation for raising COVID-19 safety and health concerns or refusing to work under unsafe conditions related to COVID-19.

California

Cal/OSHA adopted a new emergency standard for COVID prevention on November 19, 2020:
https://www.dir.ca.gov/OSHSB/documents/COVID-19-Prevention-Emergency-apprvdtxt.pdf

https://www.dir.ca.gov/title8/5199.html (the Cal/OSHA aerosol transmission standard that covers healthcare and first-response employees)

http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/147290.pdf (L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to facilitate worker-led health councils to monitor business compliance with public health orders mitigating the spread of COVID-19 at work)

https://thelafed.org/releases/in-battle-against-covid-19-board-of-supervisors-propose-innovative-solution/

Illinois

https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/Executive-Orders/ExecutiveOrder2020-32.aspx (initial EO issued April 30)

https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/Executive-Orders/ExecutiveOrder2020-38.aspx (updated EO issued May 29)

http://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/community-guidance/guidance-food-and-meat-processing-facilities (issued by Illinois Department of Public Health)

From the reopening checklists now being published: “Any employee who has had close contact with co-worker or any other person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days after the last/most recent contact with the infectious individual and should seek a COVID-19 test at a state or local government testing center, healthcare center or other testing locations. All other employees should be on alert for symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath and taking temperature if symptoms develop.”

Kentucky

https://govstatus.egov.com/ky-healthy-at-work

Massachusetts

https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-mandatory-safety-standards-for-workplaces

https://www.mass.gov/forms/report-unsafe-working-conditions-during-covid-19 (complaint form)

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/covid-19-workplace-safety-measures-for-reopening

Michigan

Michigan OSHA issued Emergency Rules for COVID-19 on October 14, 2020. (See related press release.)

Two executive orders previously issued (here and here) will no longer be enforced by the state due to a Michigan Supreme Court decision on October 2nd invalidating the orders.

Minnesota

https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/businesses.html

https://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/COVID_19_business_plan_template.pdf

https://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/COVID_19_meatpacking_guidance.pdf (for meat)

https://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/execorders/20-54.pdf (on the right to refuse work)

Nevada

http://business.nv.gov/News_Media/COVID-19_Announcements/

http://gov.nv.gov/News/Emergency_Orders/2020/2020-04-29_-_COVID-19_Declaration_of_Emergency_Directive_016_(Attachments)/

http://gov.nv.gov/News/Emergency_Orders/2020/2020-05-07_-_COVID-19_Declaration_of_Emergency_Directive_018_-_Phase_One_Reopening_(Attachments)/

New Jersey

On October 28, 2020, New Jersey’s governor issued Executive Order 192 to protect New Jersey’s workers during the pandemic. The governor’s press release provides an overview.

This comes on top of an earlier executive order issued on April 8, 2020 requiring essential retail businesses and industries to take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, among other things. (The state is also updating industry-specific guidance.)

New York

https://agriculture.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2020/04/retailfoodstoreguidanceforseniors_1.pdf (some essential industries remain without guidance)

https://forward.ny.gov/

Oregon

On November 6, 2020, Oregon OSHA adopted a new COVID-19 emergency temporary rule addressing COVID-19 workplace risks.

This follows previous executive orders issued during the pandemic:
– https://www.oregon.gov/gov/admin/Pages/eo_20-12.aspx (executive order)
– https://osha.oregon.gov/news/2020/Pages/nr2020-19.aspx (Oregon OSHA)
– https://www.wweek.com/news/2020/07/01/oregon-osha-to-enforce-mask-rules/ (enforcing the EO)

Pennsylvania

https://www.governor.pa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200415-SOH-worker-safety-order.pdf

https://www.jacksonlewis.com/sites/default/files/docs/PhiladelphiaCertifiedCopy20032801.pdf (Philadelphia ordinance that includes retaliation protections for raising concerns or refusing unsafe work; plus private right of action)

Rhode Island

https://reopeningri.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID-19-Control_Plan_Fillable_Template-Final-5.13.20.pdf?189db0&189db0

Virginia

https://www.doli.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Final-Standard-for-Infectious-Disease-Prevention-of-the-Virus-That-Causes-COVID-19-16-VAC25-220-1.27.2021.pdf (Virginia issued a Final Permanent Standard for preventing COVID-19, effective January 27. 2021)

https://www.doli.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/COVID-19-Emergency-Temporary-Standard-FOR-PUBLIC-DISTRIBUTION-FINAL-7.17.2020.pdf (Virginia OSH passed the nation’s first Emergency Temporary Standard for workers, effective the week of July 27, 2020)

Washington State

https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/COVID19AgriculturalSafetyPlan.pdf (COVID protections for farmworkers)

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/4300/TWH-RevisedRule-9-10-2020.pdf (revised emergency rule on temporary worker housing)

https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance-businesses-and-workers (this is written as enforceable guidance)

https://www.lni.wa.gov/safety-health/safety-rules/enforcement-policies/DD170.pdf (enforcement)

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on May 10, 2021.

About the Author: Debbie Berkowitz, NELP’s Worker Safety and Health program director, joined NELP in 2015, following six years serving as chief of staff and then a senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (2009-2015)


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Essential workers worried about CDC’s honor-system mask guidance, this week in the war on workers

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The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents many grocery workers, is … not happy about the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ (CDC) new guidance that vaccinated people can go unmasked indoors. Food and retail workers, after all, have been contending all along with people who refused rules about masks, and are now guaranteed to have to contend with people who may be lying about being vaccinated. The honor system guidance doesn’t take these workers into account. 

“Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?” UFCW President Marc Perrone said in a statement. “With so many states already ending their mask mandates, this new CDC guidance must do more to acknowledge the real and daily challenge these workers and the American people still face.”

The UFCW wants the CDC to clarify how exactly workers will be kept safe. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 15, 2020. Reprinted with Permission.

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


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Masks for thee, but not for me?

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Rebecca Rainey

What everyone’s thinking about this week: Should workers still be required to wear masks on the job?

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suddenly updated its guidance last week to allow fully vaccinated Americans to gather without masks indoors and outdoors, even if some in their group are unvaccinated, the agency created confusion about what that change means for the workplace.

Right now, it’s up to your boss to decide whether you need to wear a mask or not. The CDC’s guidelines are optional. (The Biden administration is working on mandatory workplace Covid-19 rules, but we’ll get to that later.)

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, warned that the CDC failed to consider the risks the new guidance creates for workers and that it now requires them to become “vaccination police” for customers.

And employers in the same sector are taking their side: “The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group, said the CDC’s mask announcement creates ambiguity since it doesn’t align with state and local orders,” Robbie Whelan and Sarah Nassauer reported for the Wall Street Journal. Some companies like Target and Kroger, as well as General Motors and Toyota, have decided to keep their own mask mandates in place for the time being.

BUT: Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, and subsidiary Sam’s Club said Friday it would stop requiring masks — depending on state and local rules — for fully vaccinated staff and customers, effective Tuesday. “Unvaccinated associates must still wear face coverings, per CDC guidance,” the company said. “Some associates may choose to continue to wear masks, and as part of our value of respect for the individual we should all support their right to do so.” Publix similarly changed its rules so that vaccinated workers and patrons don’t have to don masks.

The big takeaway: David Barron, labor and employment attorney at Cozen O’Connor, predicts that most workers in customer-facing jobs will likely still have to wear masks, despite the CDC’s change. He also warns that it will be “difficult to enforce” separate workplace rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, which large retailers have already started to implement.

Where’s OSHA? The switcheroo from the Biden administration, which came just a few weeks after the White House urged people to still wear masks in public, raises questions about the future of any mandatory Covid-19 workplace safety rules. These rules were expected to be issued by mid-March, but weren’t sent to the Office of Management and Budget for final review until April 26.

Workplace safety experts and attorneys say that rules issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are typically strongly influenced by CDC guidelines — and the CDC’s advice regarding masks has been changed twice by the Biden administration in less than a month.

WE KEEP ON WAITING: Once the OSHA rules clear the White House budget office, they will become public and go into effect. OMB has review meetings on the rules scheduled through May 24, meaning we’re still at least a week away from seeing them.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 17, 2020.

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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America’s vanishing workforce

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Federal and state officials, who spent the last year trying to keep Americans safe in their homes during the pandemic, are suddenly grappling with the opposite problem: how to lure them back to work.

At least 14 states, including North Dakota, Alabama and South Carolina, have moved to cut off enhanced federal jobless benefits that were supposed to last until September. Florida is among roughly 30 states reinstating a requirement that the unemployed prove they are looking for work to receive state benefits. Montana is offering return-to-work bonuses to unemployment recipients who accept a job offer. Amazon, McDonald’s and Chipotle are hiking wages, as is Tyson Foods, which will also start allowing more flexible work schedules.

And President Joe Biden is emphasizing the need for workers to accept new job offers even as the factors that have been keeping them on the sidelines — scarce childcare options, elevated health concerns and generous federal unemployment aid — remain in place.

“It’s time to get back to work,” Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday while announcing that his state would be ending federal unemployment benefits. “We do not want people on unemployment. We want people working. A strong economy cannot exist without workers returning to a job.”

The flurry of activity underscores the rising concern that the economic recovery could be jeopardized even as lockdown restrictions are lifted if restaurants, travel companies and other businesses are unable to hire enough staff to keep up with surging consumer demand.

Fears of a labor shortage have been fed by government data that showed employers added 266,000 jobs in April, falling far short of the roughly 1 million that many economists had forecast.

While economists warn against jumping to conclusions based on one month of data, a second survey released Tuesday showed there were a record 8.1 million job openings available going into April. And there were fewer hires per job opening that month than at any time since the series began in 2001, said Jed Kolko, the chief economist at the job-search site Indeed. That’s fueling the suspicion that a shortage of workers is holding employers back.

The difficulty in hiring workers has prompted some of the country’s largest employers to increase pay. McDonald’s announced Thursday it would raise wages for more than 36,500 hourly workers by an average of 10 percent over the next several months. Amazon said it will hike wages by up to $3 an hour for more than half a million of its U.S. employees.

But the conversation over how to boost hiring has focused primarily on the enhanced unemployment benefits, which Republicans say are overly generous and give people an incentive to stay home.

The benefits currently supply an extra $300 per week in federal money on top of state jobless aid, which varies among states but averages more than $300 a week.

More states are expected to follow those that have cut off the federal benefits. And GOP lawmakers in Washington are pushing legislation to overhaul the federal aid: Nine Republicans this week introduced a bill to cut the benefits in half by the end of the month and phase them out entirely by the end of June. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is rolling out legislation that would convert the last two months of extra unemployment benefits into a signing bonus for any worker who gets a job by July 4.

“We’ve been warning about this predictable crisis for a year now,” Sasse said in a statement. “Americans want to work, but the federal government is paying more for unemployment than for work. Well-meaning but stupidly designed policy is holding Main Street back.”

Senate Democrats also signaled this week that they are unlikely to support extending the enhanced benefits beyond the program’s current September expiration date if the economy continues to recover.

At the same time, economists caution that the benefit of cutting off the extra jobless aid early would be limited and could hurt those who truly need it, while also forcing people into jobs that aren’t a good fit and don’t work out long-term. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the motivating effect of ending the aid would only be “on the margin.”

“You’re obviously hurting people who really need the UI, but you’re only going to get a few people back to work,” Zandi said. “Net-net, I think it’s a mistake.”

Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation, said, “There is simply no economic evidence that pandemic unemployment aid is holding back job creation.” Stettner highlighted weekly jobless claims data to show that more than 1 million workers have already gotten off unemployment rolls since early March — moves made before GOP governors began cutting off their federal benefits.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 473,000 people filed initial claims for jobless benefits in the week ending May 8, down 34,000 from the previous week and the lowest since the pandemic began.

While Biden administration officials and most economists acknowledge that the unemployment aid is probably one reason for the slow pace of hiring in April, they say a combination of lingering health concerns, lack of child care and workers being choosier about their job choices is also likely to blame.

“The biggest issue is that you’ve got several moms and dads that are home that had been working, but have to be home to take care of their kids,” said Zandi. “Certainly when schools reopen in person, these parents ought to be able to get back to work and really fill in a lot of these open positions.”

Other elements that could be contributing to slower rehires can be harder to track through official data: a heightened level of early retirements, for example, by baby boomers who quit their jobs at the start of the pandemic and aren’t planning to return. A huge number of people are also switching jobs and sometimes industries, and in those cases it can take longer for an employee to match with a new employer.

One in three people who said they were working in February 2020 are no longer with the same employer as they were then, according to Adam Blandin, an economist with Virginia Commonwealth University who co-created the Real-Time Population Survey.

“When there’s that amount of reallocation, that could be one more source that’s contributing to a little bit slower recovery,” Blandin said. “Because employers are looking for people who may have moved on, and people who are trying to move on are trying to figure out where to go next.”

The amalgamation of factors means that some of the steps being proposed to reverse the trend, like paying out a return-to-work bonus, will likely have little benefit if they only address one of the problems keeping people at home.

“If the issue is solely money, maybe a return to work bonus is going to help,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. “If the issue is childcare, that a single mom simply cannot find a childcare facility, maybe schools are not open yet in a particular area … In that case, a return-to-work bonus isn’t going to have any impact.”

The White House is looking to take a multi-step approach to boost hiring, all while dismissing the idea that the enhanced unemployment benefits included as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan are a major reason people are staying at home.

The bulk of the administration’s approach centers on doling out aid that was already allocated under the rescue plan, in part by setting up a process for state and local governments to apply for funding that could help boost public-sector hiring and sending relief checks to 16,000 restaurants and bars. The White House also released guidance this week to help states use rescue plan funds to aid childcare centers in reopening and give families subsidies to afford them.

On unemployment specifically, the administration is working to help states reimpose their work-search requirements for accepting unemployment benefits and highlighting programs already in place that would allow workers to take part-time job offers while continuing to collect some jobless aid. Biden himself also called on employers to help distribute vaccines and pay decent wages, saying both steps would help get people back to work.

And, in direct response to concerns that generous unemployment benefits are keeping Americans from returning to work, the administration is emphasizing a central rule surrounding the aid that is already on the books — that no one can turn down a reasonable job offer without losing their jobless aid.

“We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said at the White House on Monday. “That’s the law.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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How AI Impacts Workers’ Rights

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Artificial intelligence has largely celebrated across industries. Businesses recognize the benefits of AI in all kinds of automation and performance-boosting processes. However, the impact of AI on workers and their rights is less discussed.

As much as AI stands to benefit businesses, the trade-offs can mean lost work and working hours for millions of workers. Facing displacement, we explore how AI is really affecting workers as well as the rights that workers have when AI comes for them.

How AI is Affecting Workers

Right now, tech is driving business in all kinds of industries. Manufacturing, education, health care, and even government have had their processes revolutionized by the implementation of smart systems and automated functions. In fact, revenues accrued from AI software are expected to reach $118.6 billion by 2025.

But the implications of AI in business bring with them some human concerns.

Chief among these concerns is that of worker displacement. Right now, sectors of the economy like manufacturing face the biggest risk from automated processes. Already, every robot added in manufacturing replaces 3.3 human workers and decreases average wages. 

At the same time, however, AI implementation has changed the nature of work and created additional jobs. AI is expected to create more jobs than it displaces. The problem is the nature of these roles and their corresponding qualifications can be much different than the positions they replace.

For example, right now the trucking industry faces a labor shortage amidst poor conditions and fears of the industry going automated. However, even if the trucks themselves become self-driving, operators will still be needed to ensure that the machines run as needed. Not even machines are perfect. Breakdowns and maintenance still occur. The shift to automation means that many jobs are moving to accommodate the needs of these useful machines.

Artificial intelligence, then, can bring worker benefits, too. In trucking, this means safer conditions and even reduced environmental impact through more efficient vehicles. However, it would be naive to suggest that all displaced workers will be able to conveniently transfer their skill-set over to changing roles. Because of the threat of displacement, workers need to understand their rights when it comes to imminent AI implementation.

Your Rights When it Comes to AI Adoption

As we have seen in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses appear to be replacing people with technology. This threatens the economic rebound and has the potential to lock certain demographics out of the job marketplace. For workers afraid that such a circumstance will come for you, we’ve laid out two essential rights that you have and how AI can impact those rights.

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

Workers have the right to assemble and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. This is the freedom that has allowed the creation of labor unions. The continuation of this freedom will depend on what happens with workers in organizations with the widespread adoption of AI tools. 

Amazon is one such organization. Right now, Amazon workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, facility are engaged in a campaign to unionize. If successful, they will be the first unionized Amazon workforce, giving them greater power in how the ecommerce giant manages its workforce and automation practices. 

Unionization and collective bargaining are some of the best and most powerful tools you can employ in the fight against job displacement. However, using this freedom will be more difficult in states with right-to-work laws that diminish the power of unions.  

  • Freedom from forced or compulsory labor

Automation definitely won’t mean workers will now be forced into any kind of compulsory labor, but it can mean positions with fewer benefits and protections. For example, the gig economy has experienced a significant boost, especially in the wake of COVID-19. However, gig workers as independent contractors aren’t guaranteed minimum wage, unemployment insurance premiums, or even healthcare. 

Uber has spent millions lobbying the federal government to keep its drivers classified as independent contractors rather than employees. Uber is also at the forefront of autonomous vehicle innovation. With more work becoming automated, gig workers are on the rise — but even these gigs are under threat of automation.

In short, workers’ rights are put at great risk from the impact of AI. The rise of autonomous systems and vehicles means the nature of work is changing without a safety net of workers’ rights protecting against displacement and loss of job-associated benefits like health insurance.

Workers and displaced workers, then, must come together to advocate for federal protections and solutions for a redefined economy. Your right to bargaining remains. With a representative government, we can demand better protections with a strong enough grassroots movement.

This blog is printed with permission.

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


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Migrant Women Are Holding Society Together During This Pandemic

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The past year has seen several lockdowns as a result of the pandemic, which have had a deep impact on education, employment and the way we work globally. These factors have had an especially stark effect on women.

For more than 168 million children worldwide, schools have been closed for almost a year, forcing them to resort to online learning from home, according to UNICEF. In most households, it is women who have borne the majority of the burden of home schooling during the lockdowns.

Meanwhile, even as working from home has become the “new normal,” the pandemic has resulted in the loss of 24.7 million jobs, according to an estimate by the International Labor Organization. Economic inequality is likely to worsen, the ILO warns, as the jobs crisis disproportionately affects women and migrants.

In Latin America, the frequent lockdowns have come to define life during the pandemic, the social impact of which has unequally been borne by women. This has led to many women having to leave the workforce due to the mounting pressure of looking after their families, especially since the gender pay gap means they might not be the primary earning members of the household.

In cases where women try to retain their jobs while taking on the major burden of the housework as compared to men, sometimes, the only option available—if they can afford it—is to hire a domestic worker to do the various forms of care work like cooking, cleaning, child-rearing and eldercare that cannot be done easily by a working woman. According to data provided by UN Women in 2016, one in six domestic workers is an international migrant; of these workers, 73.4 percent are women. So, the domestic worker is typically a migrant woman.

Due to the precarious nature of domestic work and the insufficient political power among women domestic workers, their working conditions are appalling. According to data provided by Alliance for Solidarity, 57 percent of domestic workers have no fixed working hours. That means that these domestic workers do not control how long they work for in a day and when they can leave their workspaces, nor do they control their breaks and their meals.

Women Workers and the Pandemic

During the pandemic, the situation for domestic workers has worsened. They are presented with tough choices: either they stay in their employer’s house for the duration of the lockdown and therefore neglect their own families, or they choose to commute and risk losing their jobs because their employers fear that they could bring the virus into their households. Domestic workers’ unions have protested against this terrible choice. But their voices are not presented in the media, largely because these women are marginalized and treated as invisible parts of society.

Women domestic workers are part of a large community of informal workers, many of whom have held society together during this pandemic. It is these informal workers who have been attending to food distribution, cleaning public spaces, and working in small grocery stores and other shops. They bear the high risk of being infected not only due to the nature of their work but also because of their long commutes using public transport. In South America, such jobs are held largely by migrant women, many of whom have insecure residency status.

‘We Don’t Have Labor Rights in a Pandemic—Only Working Conditions’

Angélica Venega left Peru for Chile to earn more money so she could support her daughter’s education. A relative put her in contact with Sinducap, a trade union for workers in private households and those who work in related activities. Sinducap is part of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Domestic Workers, founded in 1988. Sinducap, Venega told me, allowed her to bargain for clearly defined working conditions in the home where she is employed. These terms of employment include working hours, provision of meals and money for transportation, payment of social security, a uniform requirement or lack thereof, and limits to what is expected during working hours.

Emilia Solís Vivano, president of Sinducap, told me that there are more than 300 people in the union. The union members are not only domestic workers but also include cleaners, caterers, gardeners and window cleaners. These workers help to sustain a better way of life for their employers. Unfortunately, the same is not possible for them.

Already precarious before the pandemic, the situation for the workers has become worse in the past few months. “Because of the stigmatization of domestic workers as possible [carriers] of the virus,” Venega told me, “many employers ask us to live in the house to avoid using public transportation. This is not exactly an offer. If you don’t accept this offer, you are fired. You are dismissed, but because they make you an offer which you refuse, they call it a resignation. If you resign, there are [no] legal benefits. In a pandemic, we have no labor rights. We only have conditions.”

The demand that domestic workers live in their place of employment, Venega said, is not just about the pandemic, fear of disease, and the protocols of health. The pandemic, she said, is being used by employers to extend the working day for less pay. When you live in the same house where you work, working hours can end up being dictated by the convenience and working conditions of the employers, who may demand more attention once they come home from work, during weekends when receiving visitors, and according to the schedule of their children.

These are conditions, Venega told me, that the employers of domestic workers would not tolerate in their own workplaces, where they are employed, but they are not afraid to impose such terrible conditions on the domestic workers. Employers often reduce the wages of the domestic workers, saying that their own salaries have been reduced due to the pandemic.

If a worker is infected by the COVID-19 virus, then they are summarily fired. Workers are responsible for paying for their treatment and where they spend a quarantine period in these cases. This is even more terrible for a migrant, who might not have a house to go to or a family to shelter with. Being fired could mean deportation.

The “new normal,” Venega told me, is not so “new.” It is part and parcel of how things were even before the pandemic. “What is being made normal,” she said, “is greed.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Taroa Zúñiga Silva is the co-editor with Giordana García Sojo of Venezuela, Vórtice de la Guerra del Siglo XXI (2020). She is a member of the Secretaría de Mujeres Inmigrantes en Chile. She also is a member of the Mecha Cooperativa, a project of the Ejército Comunicacional de Liberación.


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