The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which fights for better wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, and beyond, has been sounding the alarm for months. The conditions the workers face, “the result of generations of grinding poverty and neglect, will act like a superconductor for the transmission of the coronavirus,” CIW co-founder Greg Asbed wrote in The New York Times in early April. “And if something isn’t done—now—to address their unique vulnerability, the men and women who plant, cultivate and harvest our food will face a decimating wave of contagion and misery in a matter of weeks, if not days.“ That was April. The Florida Department of Health didn’t even start seriously testing these communities until early May.
While the Coalition of Immokalee Workers did what it could by spreading information and working with the growers in its Fair Food Program to help protect workers with things like hand-washing stations and grocery delivery (Doctors Without Borders has been helping with response), it hasn’t been enough to undo the neglect and irresponsible leadership at the government level.
“You don’t want those folks mixing with the general public if you have an outbreak,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week, perhaps seeking to illustrate not only how irresponsible he is, but how vicious and dehumanizing he is as well.
As a result of that failure to lead, farming communities in Florida have alarming rates of COVID-19. Collier County, where Immokalee is, has a positive test rate about double the state level, and, the Times reports, “Lake Worth, a suburban Palm Beach County community of about 39,000 that has a large population of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants, has 1,367 confirmed cases, slightly more than St. Petersburg, a city six times larger.”
The danger of the virus and the economic pressure to follow the jobs—low-paying and often abusive though they may be—is weighing heavily on workers.
”We’re afraid,” Angelina Velásquez, a single mother, told the Times. “But where am I supposed to go? There is no work here.” Other workers are also making the very difficult decision to stay put. “I’m trying to take care of myself—for my wife, for my baby,” one said.
These migrant workers are in a no-win situation they didn’t create. And while it’s a systemic problem, the people who lead and benefit from that system are treating the workers as essentially disposable. This time, that may lead to the coronavirus spreading even further.
This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.
The bill amends the state’s Civil Rights Act by adding pregnancy to race, sex, and physical disability as protected classes. It got unanimous support in the state senate and near-unanimous passage in the House. It now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) desk, whose office didn’t return a request for comment on whether he would sign it.
Lawmakers introduced it to codify a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court last year in favor of plaintiff Peggy Delva, a front desk manager at a condominium building who sued her employer for barring her from covering other workers’ shifts after she became pregnant and firing her when she returned from leave. The court ruled that she was discriminated against on account of her pregnancy and that violated Florida’s law against sex discrimination, overturning lower courts who ruled against her.
Federal law, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is also supposed to protect pregnant women, but they still experience widespread discrimination. An estimated quarter million womenevery year are denied their requests for employers to give them accommodations at work so that they can stay on their jobs throughout their pregnancies, so they end up pushed onto unpaid leave or suffering health complications such as miscarriages if they stay. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, who had sued UPS for refusing to give her light duty after she became pregnant, forcing her onto unpaid leave without benefits.
Anumberofwomen in a variety of industries have also sued their employers for firing them just after they disclosed their pregnancies.
At the same time, however, more and more women are choosing to work while pregnant. Today, two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, up from less than half in 1960. Of those who do, 80 percent keep working into their last month, compared to just a third in the ’60s. But past court cases show that employers often vilify or stereotype pregnant women, such as relying on the idea that they’ll just end up leaving after they have their babies, to justify firing them.
Some states have taken further action to protect pregnant employees, passing Pregnant Worker Fairness Acts to require employers to give them accommodations to stay on the job. A similar law has beenintroduced at the federal level but hasn’t moved forward.
Florida’s law should also protect women who say they have been barred from entering bars because they might appear to be pregnant.
This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.
Although Marie Museau, a nursing assistant at Palmetto Hospital in Hialeah, Fla., works as a healthcare provider, she does not have health insurance. She and thousands of other healthcare workers in the Sunshine State spend their days attending to the health of others, yet cannot afford to visit a doctor themselves.
Museau makes too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford the family health insurance plan she could purchase from her employer, which would cost her closer to $600 per month. “That’s almost half my take-home pay,” she said.
If Museau lived in Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky–or any one of 23 other states–she would qualify for fully paid healthcare thanks to the new healthcare law. The law transfers billions of federal dollars to the states, so they can expand their Medicaid programs to cover millions of additional working Americans.
However, because politicians in Florida have blocked the state from accepting the funding–which is fully paid by the federal government initially and later 90 percent federally paid–she and three of her children will continue to go without health insurance.
Museau has a fourth child–a son who requires intensive care at home after a car accident several years ago. She worries about her own health, and her ability to care for her injured son if she gets ill. “I have heart issues and need to see a cardiologist, but at this point I just can’t afford to,” she says.
Museau was failed by her state. By refusing to accept the $51 billion in fully paid federal funding, Florida politicians lost their chance to insure 1.2 million Floridians and create 120,000 new healthcare jobs in the state. All of this just to try to sabotage the new healthcare law and appease tea party extremists who are demanding its repeal.
The fight is not over. SEIU members have been working overtime to persuade Florida lawmakers, including Gov. Rick Scott, to finally accept these dollars that will give hardworking Floridians just like Museau the affordable healthcare they need.
“I’m hoping the state of Florida accepts that money,” Museau said. “It would really help me and my family.”‘
This article was originally printed on SEIU on November 20, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
Internal email messages uncovered by Health News Florida reveal that Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is knowingly citing inaccurate cost estimates to justify his refusalto expand Florida’s Medicaid program. Though the governor’s office is fully aware that the numbers are wrong, Scott continues to use them anyway, the documents show.
Florida, which has one of the highest rates of uninsurance in the nation, could extend health coverage to about one million low-income residents by accepting Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. But the governor — an ardent Obamacare opponent — has repeatedly said that expanding Medicaid would just be too expensive, claiming it would cost the state $26 billion over the next 10 years.
As Health News Florida reports, however, that figure from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) is inflated because it doesn’t take into account the full amount that the federal government will reimburse states for choosing to expand Medicaid. A more accurate analysis found that expansion would cost the state around $1 billion:
But those numbers are based on a flawed report, state budget analysts say. A series of e-mails obtained by Health News Florida shows the analysts warned Scott’s office the numbers were wrong weeks ago, but he is still using them. […]
The Act says the federal government will pay the lion’s share of the cost for new Medicaid eligibles if a state agrees to expand its program — a decision the Supreme Court left up to the states. The federal contribution for the new eligibles would be 100 percent between 2014 and 2016, then would taper after that to 90 percent by 2020 and stay there.
But the AHCA report assumes the federal match for the new patients would be much lower, about 58 percent. It came up with that by averaging the match amount over the past 20 years. The report doesn’t say why the authors made that assumption. […]
As Health News Florida reported on Dec. 21, the AHCA estimates were huge in comparison to a study released by the Urban Institute and Kaiser Family Foundation, two neutral research groups that specialize in Medicaid studies. Their study estimated that if Florida agreed to expand Medicaid, about 1 million uninsured people would gain coverage at a 10-year cost to the state of around $1 billion.
According to the email chain that Health News Florida obtained, state officials began calling the AHCA’s $26 billion cost estimate into question as early as December 20. One member of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee even pointed out that, since the health reform law specifies that the federal government will help fund Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, it would actually break Florida state law to expand Medicaid without using the federal dollars mandated for that purpose.
Nevertheless, Scott has continued to repeat his false claim that Florida can’t afford to provide its low-income residents with the health coverage they need. Scott met with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday to express his concerns about what expanding Medicaid would mean for his state’s bottom line. “Growing government, it’s never free,” Scott explained to reporters. “It always costs money.” Just not as much money as Scott says it does.
This article was originally posted on Think Progress on January 8, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Tara Culp-Ressler is an editorial assistant at ThinkProgress.org. Before joining Think Progress, Tara deepened her interest in progressive politics from a faith-based perspective at several religious nonprofits, including Faith in Public Life, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Interfaith Voices. Tara first came to D.C. to study Communications and Spanish at American University, where she also wrote for the student newspaper and advocated for women’s issues on campus. She is originally from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
This week, Broward County—one of the most populous counties in South Florida—became the second county in the state to pass a local wage theft ordinance, joining Miami-Dade County. In a 7-2 vote, the Board of County Commissioners voted to create the new law to deal with a significant and growing problem in Florida. Wage theft occurs when workers are not paid overtime, not paid at least the minimum wage, are forced to work off the clock or are not paid at all for work they have completed.
“I was at the meeting yesterday asking commissioners to vote yes for the ordinance, speaking on behalf of my close friends who are victims of wage theft in our county and haven’t been able to recover their wages after months of effort,” says Maria Isabel Fernandez, a resident of Dania Beach in Broward County. “I was thrilled when the ordinance passed! It may be too late for my friends, but it will help other people like them in the future who will now have the possibility of recovering the salaries they earned through their work without having to hire a lawyer and wait months without any income.”
Several factors contribute to the problem. Florida does not have a state-level Department of Labor, has a high percentage of workers who are not covered by federal wage and hour laws and has a legislature that is openly hostile to wage theft laws, so much so that it recently tried to ban such laws at the local level.
Cynthia Hernandez of the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University says:
Policymakers need to consider the ramifications of Florida becoming a glaring example of a state that tolerates and even encourages wage violations. Broward County and Miami-Dade’s wage theft ordinances are examples of good government policy addressing this growing issue. These ordinances are critical to maintaining a fairly competitive business environment so critical to Florida’s economy.
Alachua County, where Gainesville and the University of Florida reside, is considering becoming the third county to pass a wage theft ordinance. For more information or to report wage theft in Florida, contact the Florida Wage Theft Task Force.
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is is senior writer for AFL-CIO. He is originally from Florida and is the father of three sons. He can be reached at [email protected]
Americans faced with a tough economy face significant struggles when they lose their jobs. Since the 1930s, workers who are without jobs through no fault of their own have had the safety net of the unemployment compensation program to serve as a backup plan until they get back on their feet. Under new rules implemented by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his allies in the state legislature, it is getting harder and harder for working families who have lost their jobs to obtain the unemployment compensation that they have earned.
Florida’s unemployment compensation system was already one of the toughest in the nation before Republicans revised the rules to make it even more difficult for workers who have hit tough times to receive vital financial resources. Unlike any other state’s system, applicants are now required to apply online, with no option available for those who do not have Internet access to complete the application. Historically, applicants could use a call-in system to complete the requirements, but that option has been eliminated. The legislation was originally sponsored by state Rep. Doug Holder, (R).
“Florida’s revised procedures make it just about as difficult as possible for unemployed workers to access unemployment insurance now,” said Valory Greenfield, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services.
The effect is that the state is blocking workers from accessing help they are qualified for and twisting the knife in the state’s ailing economy. Nowhere in the country is it this hard to get help when you lose a job.
The online application also now requires a 45-question skills review, asking questions about applied mathematics, reading for information and locating information. The skills test is not available for review as the governor’s administration claims it is “proprietary.” This means, there is no way to independently verify that the test is a valid measure of worker skills. Scott’s office claims that the review is a “common sense” reform designed to create a more skilled workforce, but in reality, the review serves to discourage Floridians from completing the application. The denial rate for applications jumped more than 66% in the first three months of 2012. Other new rules require those who receive compensation to provide documentation that they have applied to a minimum of five jobs per week. The new rules also reduced the maximum number of weeks of that someone can be in the system from 26 weeks to 23. More dangerously for Floridians, is the fact that the legislation pegs the number of weeks workers can receive compensation to the unemployment rate, dropping the number of weeks all the way down to 12 if the state’s unemployment rate drops below 5%. That could certainly cause problems for workers in any fields that are not in line with the overall employment situation and does not allow for flexibility to deal with the complexities of the state’s diverse economy. The shorter duration of compensation offered by Florida could also diminish federal benefits that workers receive, since the federal benefits are tied to the compensation that states give. Florida’s average payment is $230 a week, with a maximum of $275—both among the lowest in the nation.
Scott renamed the program the “Reemployment Assistance Program” and cut the tax that funds the program by $800,000. The funding cuts have led to a logjam in the system as the call volume for the staff whose job it is to help applicants through the process is very high. There are numerous reports of people calling for assistance and never getting any help as calls go unanswered for days. Reporters who attempted to call into the system for help said that automated messages told them that there were hundreds of calls ahead of them in the queue and that the system hung up on them without them ever having talked to a human being. The cuts to the tax that funds the program have led to a massive deficit where the state borrowed $2.7 billion from the federal government to cover shortfalls.
Applicants also complain that the state’s website contains misinformation about the program and that it is difficult to navigate. Failure to complete any portion of the application or skills test results in delays in compensation or outright rejection of access to the program. Frequently, those who face delays or rejection are not even told that they have failed to complete the full process and they can wait weeks without knowing why they are not being paid. The new rules also allow the state to deny compensation to workers for their actions that take place outside of work and have no connection to any job.
The effect of the new rules has been dramatic—hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers have lost compensation that they have earned at a time when they most need it. Florida now has the lowest rate of unemployed citizens who receive jobless benefits, with a mere 15% of eligible Floridians receiving compensation. That rate is much lower than the national rate of 27%. Only one-third of applicants ever receives any money, despite the fact that the program costs taxpayers no money and unemployment compensation is part of the benefits package that employees receive from their employers. Nationally, 29% of first-time applicants are denied compensation. The rate in Florida is more than 50%.
After a complaint was filed by Florida Legal Services and the National Employment Law Project, the United States Labor Department is investigating the new rules to determine whether or not they are illegal and require an undue burden on the jobless.
“This complaint is not challenging Florida’s right to operate an unemployment insurance program that already pays some of the lowest benefits in the country. Rather, this complaint is saying that no state, including Florida, is free to erect procedural barriers that keep otherwise eligible workers from accessing unemployment insurance,” said George Wentworth, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.
States receive federal grants to administer their unemployment insurance programs, and one of the conditions for those grants is that they have procedures in place that facilitate the prompt payment of benefits to workers who meet basic eligibility criteria. Florida’s new procedures force workers who already satisfy the basic eligibility requirements to jump through additional hoops in the form of complex online transactions. Thousands of workers are being unfairly disqualified as a result. We are asking the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate and find that Florida’s procedures are in violation of federal law.
Gov. Scott frequently uses the drop in Florida’s unemployment compensation recipients as a talking point about how his policies have improved the economy, despite the fact that the largest reasons for the drop is recipients reaching their maximum number of weeks and being ineligible for further compensation, or people getting frustrated with the system and giving up—not finding new jobs. Florida has a higher unemployment rate than the national average and approximately 800,000 residents of the state are currently without work.
This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO NOW on October 22, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is senior writer for AFL-CIO. He is originally from Florida and is the father of three sons. He can be reached at [email protected]
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