Post-COVID, Americans Don’t Want to Return to Lousy Low Wage Jobs

From today’s New York Times:

The hopes for a booming pandemic recovery — growth led by jobs gains in the millions every month — were dealt a blow in recent weeks by a disappointing April jobs report. Perhaps we will see better when results for May are released this week, on Friday. But, for weeks, many in Democratic policy and political circles have been queasy about addressing the connection between federally supplemented unemployment insurance benefits and the slowing pace of re-employment at this stage of the recovery from the pandemic. There is almost certainly a common sense connection: If you were a low-wage worker, why aggressively attempt to go back to work at a lousy, low-paying job, when you can make more money collecting unemployment benefits.

Still, Republican politicians are getting it wrong too. They are citing countless news reports that businesses are struggling to fill certain positions as both a reason to end federal unemployment benefits and as evidence that the extra benefits were too generous in the first place. They worry that the ability of some workers to stay on the sidelines of the labor market, unless employers offer wages that trump jobless benefits, could result in dangerous “wage inflation” — a potential increase in labor costs that, they believe, consumers will pay for in the form of higher priced goods and services.

That argument simply does not hold water either: Over the coming weeks and months as this aid for the jobless phases out, there will be a flood of anxious job seekers pouring into labor markets. Even if a significant share of workers are temporarily avoiding taking low-paying jobs while benefits remain generous, then there is no true “labor shortage,” as many economists and market commentators are calling it.

When Congress passed the CARES Act last May and the American Rescue Plan Act this March, it was hard, even impossible, for policymakers to forecast the demand for labor or the pace of the economic recovery. The pandemic was still stubbornly lurking. The economic (and humanitarian) risk of doing too little far exceeded the risk of being generous. And in spite of some recent comments from Democrats facing political pressure, the entire point of the enhanced unemployment checks, at least originally, was to tide Americans over until it was safe for more people to work again.

Now enhanced benefits are ending every day for the millions of Americans who have benefited from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program, which extends unemployment insurance for 13 weeks to those who exhausted their conventional state and federal unemployment benefits. All extra federal supplements for the unemployed will end on Sept. 6, including the general $300 weekly benefit, as well as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, which provides aid to those who were self-employed. (Some states are in the process of cutting them early.)

Republican-controlled states, as well as some more politically mixed states, are doing this because they presume there is a macroeconomic upside to millions of workers returning to lower-income jobs. They shouldn’t be so sure.

Read the complete article here.

Fact Check: Federal law does not prevent states, businesses, employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines

From USA Today:

As millions of Americans continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some employers, colleges and businesses are weighing whether to make vaccination mandatory. A widely shared claim on social media says those measures are against the law.

An Instagram post published May 10 says Americans “have the right to refuse” coronavirus vaccine mandates.

“Under Emergency Use Authorization, no employer, biz, or govt can make the #COVID19vaccine mandatory until it’s evaluated in 2 yrs,” says text in the post, which is a screenshot of an April 1 tweet.

As evidence, the tweet cites “21 US Code SS 360bbb-3,” a federal law that has to do with “authorization for medical products for use in emergencies.” Instagram posts mentioning that law have received thousands of interactions over the past month, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.

The law cited in the posts has to do with emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The law says nothing about a required two-year evaluation period for vaccines approved for emergency use. While there is a legal gray area for mandating vaccines authorized for emergency use,businesses, employers and state governments generally have the power to require vaccination, experts say. 

“There is no legal basis for what is being claimed,” said Ana Santos Rutschman, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University who specializes in food and drug law, in an email.

Read the complete article here.

A proposed California law, AB 257, could transform fast-food work for the better

From today’s Fortune Magazine:

A new policy strategy emerging in California holds the potential to transform fast-food work from some of the lowest-paying jobs in the state into good jobs, with solid wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Workers, employers, and policymakers in the state and around the country should pay close attention to this model, because setting and enforcing high standards in the fast-food industry is notoriously challenging—due to the industry’s franchising model, its numerous small employers with little ability to profitably raise standards, and its largely non-union workforce.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Flags are flown at a car caravan and rally of fast food workers and supporters for passage of AB 257, a fast-food worker health and safety bill, on April 16, 2021 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The rally was held outside of a McDonald’s location where a worker lodged public health complaints and a wage theft complaint. Some fast food workers are on strike in Los Angeles County today in support of the bill. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Fast food workers earn some of the lowest wages in California—$13.27 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—with only farm workers earning less in the state. Benefits are also meager: Researchers have estimated that just 13% of fast-food workers receive health benefits through their employer. A 2021 study found that more than two-thirds of the families of fast-food workers in California were enrolled in at least one public-safety net program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, at a public cost of $4 billion a year.

Compounding these problems is that nearly 9 in 10 fast food-workers, say they are subject to illegal working conditions—refused overtime pay, forced to do off-the-clock work, denied breaks, or placed in unsafe situations.

At the heart of the strategy to improve conditions for fast food workers in California is a “sectoral council,” which would bring together representatives of workers, employers, and public-sector regulators to make recommendations regarding minimum compensation, safety, scheduling stability, and training standards for the industry.  A hearing on the FAST Recovery Act—a bill that would establish the sectoral council—was held on April 22, and some think the bill could pass this year.

Sectoral councils and similar bodies have succeeded in helping raise working standards in a number of industries and regions. The state of New York used a wage board to bring together representatives of workers, employers, and the public to raise wages for fast-food workers;  the city of Seattle Domestic Workers Standards Board provides a forum for domestic workers, employers, private households, worker organizations, and the public to improve conditions for that sector; and a number of countries, including Australia and Britain, have used similar bodies in labor relations.

A fast-food sectoral council could form the backbone of fundamental change in the industry: It could not only raise standards for workers but also provide a way for workers as well employers—both franchisees and franchisors—to have a strong voice on the standards in their industry, while helping ensure standards are actually implemented and complied with.  These features are critical, because the structure of the fast-food industry makes it difficult to improve working conditions with traditional measures that have succeeded in other industries, such as actions by high-road employers that want to provide good compensation, the push of collective bargaining, or stand-alone legislated standards.

Read the complete article here.

Health Advocate or Big Brother? Companies Weigh Requiring Vaccines

From today’s New York Times:

As American companies prepare to bring large numbers of workers back to the office in the coming months, executives are facing one of their most delicate pandemic-related decisions: Should they require employees to be vaccinated?

Take the case of United Airlines. In January, the chief executive, Scott Kirby, indicated at a company town hall that he wanted to require all of his roughly 96,000 employees to get coronavirus vaccines once they became widely available.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Kirby said, before urging other corporations to follow suit.

It has been four months. No major airlines have made a similar pledge — and United Airlines is waffling.

“It’s still something we are considering, but no final decisions have been made,” a spokeswoman, Leslie Scott, said.

For the country’s largest companies, mandatory vaccinations would protect service workers and lower the anxiety for returning office employees. That includes those who have been vaccinated but may be reluctant to return without knowing whether their colleagues have as well. And there is a public service element: The goal of herd immunity has slipped as the pace of vaccinations has slowed.

But making vaccinations mandatory could risk a backlash, and perhaps even litigation, from those who view it as an invasion of privacy and a Big Brother-like move to control the lives of employees.

In polls, executives show a willingness to require vaccinations. In a survey of 1,339 employers conducted by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, 44 percent of U.S. respondents said they planned to mandate vaccinations for their companies. In a separate poll of 446 employers conducted by Willis Towers Watson, a risk-management firm, 23 percent of respondents said they were “planning or considering requiring employees to get vaccinated for them to return to the worksite.”

Read the complete article here.

Biden administration blocks Trump-era rule affecting gig workers’ employment

From today’s Reuters News Service:

The Biden administration on Wednesday blocked a Trump-era rule that would have made it easier to classify gig workers who work for companies like Uber and Lyft as independent contractors instead of employees, signaling a potential policy shift toward greater worker protections.

Shares of companies that employ gig labor such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash immediately pared gains. At 2.15 p.m. ET (1815 GMT) Uber shares traded down 3.2%, Lyft was down 5.8% and DoorDash fell 5%.

“By withdrawing the independent contractor rule, we will help preserve essential worker rights and stop the erosion of worker protections that would have occurred had the rule gone into effect,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.

“Too often, workers lose important wage and related protections when employers misclassify them as independent contractors,” he said.

Walsh told Reuters in an interview last week that a lot of U.S. gig workers should be classified as “employees” who deserve work benefits. His comments hurt stocks of companies that employ gig labor.

Walsh said in the interview that his department would have conversations in coming months with companies that employ gig labor to make sure workers have access to consistent wages, sick time, healthcare and “all of the things that an average employee in America can access.”

An Uber spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday the current employment system is outdated.

“It forces a binary choice upon workers: to either be an employee with more benefits but less flexibility, or an independent contractor with more flexibility but limited protections.”

Read the complete article here.

Labor Secretary Says Gig Workers Should Be Converted to Employees

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

President Joe Biden positioned himself as the champion of the American worker during his campaign, as well as an ardent proponent of unions. On Thursday, Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, told Reuters that gig workers should be treated as employees.

This simple statement could become an existential threat to app-based technology companies, such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and dozens of others that heavily rely upon gig-economy workers.

The tech companies are basically built on the backs of contract workers. However, these gig workers are not classified as employees. Without the designation, contractors don’t qualify for traditional benefits, rights and privileges that are afforded to full-time permanent employees.

This sector represents a significant part of the economy. About 55 million Americans work in the gig economy, comprising around 36% of the workforce. If the Biden administration decides to take action based upon Walsh’s plan, it could have devastating consequences. 

Walsh seeks to rectify the situation by reclassifying contract workers as “employees.” The labor secretary said, “We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases, gig workers should be classified as employees…in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.” Based upon this news, shares of Uber fell as much as 8%, while Lyft took a dive by 12%. Doordash fell nearly 9% and Grubhub was down 3.3%.

There are concerns raised by opponents of the gig-economy structure who say, similar to Walsh, it doesn’t seem fair to workers. Venture capitalists, institutions and wealthy individuals have flooded capital into this sector. When the tech companies went public, the investors, CEOs and top executives reaped vast fortunes. Contractors serve as cheap labor. If they acquiesce to critics like Walsh, they risk losing multimillions or billions of dollars. 

While many people earn a livelihood driving cars, delivering food and offering creative services through on-demand companies, there is a dark side. The contractors work long, hard hours for little pay and no real benefits. Near-monopolies have been created that crush or drive out the competition. Look at what happened to the once-ubiquitous yellow taxi cabs when Uber came to New York City. 

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub and other similar gig-based companies are highly dependent upon independent contractors. They have a financial self-interest in classifying drivers or workers as contractors. This model enables corporations to avoid paying payroll taxes, FICA (Social Security and Medicare), disability, federal and state-level unemployment and health insurance benefits. They are not required to comply with minimum-wage laws nor offer vacation days. 

Read the complete article here.

Break down employment barriers with training, education programs

From today’s CalMatters Online:

“You can’t have just one job in America,” says a gig worker in Los Angeles County, and “you could get replaced like this. ‘Say one wrong thing to me? You’re fired …There is a line outside the door who wants your job.’”

That is one of several perspectives from struggling workers in California captured in a new report by the Institute for the Future, which interviewed a cross-section of Californians paid less than $15 an hour last fall. The report, released March 24, explores troubling trends that preceded the pandemic but now are worsening. 

And it comes on the heels of another report by the state’s Future of Work Commission that calls for a new social compact for workers based on some staggering statistics. For example, nearly one-third of all  workers in California make less than $15 per hour, and a majority are over age 30. Women and people of color also are paid, disproportionately, the lowest wages in our state.

Beyond wages, fewer than half of workers in California report having a “quality job,” which the Future of Work Commission describes as “a living wage, stable and predictable pay, control over scheduling, access to benefits, a safe and dignified work environment, and opportunities for training and career advancement.”

The commission also notes how a decrease in worker power and organizing relates to job quality, inequality and violations of workers’ rights. The percentage of Californians in a labor union has dropped from 24% in 1980 to 15% in 2018, and membership in a union reduces the likelihood of low-wage employment more so than a college degree (39% versus 33%).

The futurists at the Institute for the Future outline how COVID-19 has accelerated instability and insecurity for workers. This is now an all-hands on deck moment, requiring consensus and collaboration across sectors – government, business, labor, education, workforce development, philanthropy and community organizations. This is difficult, complicated, and even expensive work, but it is essential if we are to make the California Dream real and attainable for all.

Despite collaborative efforts, we need more employers and labor organizations at the table. Industry has a critical role, and they must be closely involved every step of the way, not as an afterthought.     

The good news is that some promising efforts are underway. If passed, Assembly Bill 628, introduced by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat from Coachella, will build upon the Breaking Barriers to Employment Initiative by assisting individuals in obtaining the skills necessary to prepare for jobs in high-demand industries. The program would support individuals who face systemic barriers to employment with training and education programs aligned with regional labor market needs.

Read the complete article here.

“An NDA Was Designed to Keep Me Quiet” – How Pinterest Undermines Equity in the Workplace

From today’s New York Times:

Last March, I sat in a lawyer’s conference room and watched as my corporate account at Pinterest was suddenly shut off. For almost two years, I had worked at the company as a public policy manager engaging with elected officials, civil rights groups and public health organizations. In an instant, I lost access to emails, documents and all internal systems. Months earlier, I filed complaints about wage discrimination and retaliation. Now the company was presenting me with no choice but to leave.

I thought about how I would explain to my colleagues, friends, family and prospective employers why I no longer had the high-profile job I loved. Worse, I had to find a way to have those conversations without violating the terms of a highly restrictive nondisclosure agreement (NDA), drawn up by Pinterest’s legal team, which was designed to keep me quiet.

Companies have long used NDAs to prevent competitors from poaching confidential information and good ideas. But they appear to increasingly be used to prevent workers from speaking out about instances of harassment, discrimination or assault they may face on the job.

During the #MeToo movement, those who came forward to report workplace abuses did so at great personal and legal risk. But it shouldn’t be this way. That is why I’mhelping lead the passage of a bill in California that, if signed into law, will allow victims of any kind of workplace discrimination to speak openly about the abuse they experience, regardless of the language in an NDA.

For a long time, I hesitated to speak about the issues I experienced at Pinterest. I didn’t want to be sued, and I hoped that the company would do the right thing and address the pay inequities and retaliation I faced. But it didn’t. When I eventually made the decision to come forward publicly, I, along with a courageous former colleague named Aerica Shimizu Banks, did so with the knowledge that we’d be covered, to some extent, under a 2019 law in California called CCP 1001.

Passed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the law provides protections for those breaking NDAs if they disclose factual allegations related to only three types of misconduct: sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination. But those protections did not include the race discrimination that I also faced as a Black woman. As such, only one part of my identity was protected, leaving me in a sort of legal limbo.

Recognizing the need for intersectional protection in this law, I decided to work withCalifornia State Senator Connie Leyva (the author of CCP 1001) to help draft and sponsor the Silenced No More Act along with the California Employment Lawyers Association and Equal Rights Advocates. If passed, the measure will allow victims of any type of covered workplace discrimination — on the basis of such categories as race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation — to speak honestly and openly about what they have faced, regardless of the language in a nondisclosure or nondisparagement agreement.

Read the complete article here.

Unionization Efforts by Amazon Workers Dealt a Blow After Alabama Vote

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon workers at a giant Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing, a significant blow to a months-long campaign that pitted union activists against one of the nation’s most powerful employers and briefly appeared poised to reenergize the American labor movement.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., while 738 workers voted to join the union, according to a vote result Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Some 5,876 warehouse workers were eligible to cast ballots by mail-in vote starting in February.

The result came after a days-long count that was announced online via livestream, and after nearly a week in which the labor board reviewed and certified, behind closed doors, all cast ballots. There were 505 contested ballots set aside during this process and not included in the final tally. The union said the majority were contested by Amazon. The labor board determined there weren’t enough contested ballots to affect the election result.

It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union, unusually in a right-to-work state with enduring Deep South history. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely watched American union drives in recent history.

The RWDSU said it intended to challenge the result, which it characterized as the result of intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign. Amazon on Friday disputed union messaging that it had unfairly influenced the vote, and thanked the Bessemer workers for participating in the vote.

The chasm reflected the dual reality that many Amazon workers say they navigate: On the one hand, earning higher than minimum wage, with benefits, at one of the world’s most influential companies at a precarious time for the economy and jobs. And on the other hand, enduring the exacting control and pace of work in warehouses that Amazon has come to be known for, to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect — all as consumer demand boomed during the pandemic.

Read the complete article here.

Unions at The Ringer and Gimlet Media announce their first contracts

From today’s New York Times:

Unions representing employees at two prominent podcasting companies owned by Spotify, the audiostreaming giant, announced Wednesday that they had ratified their first labor contracts.

The larger of the two unions, with 65 employees, is at The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website with a podcasting network. The second union, at the podcast production company Gimlet Media, has just under 50 employees. The two groups were among the first in the podcasting industry to unionize, and both are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.

Lowell Peterson, the guild’s executive director, said the contracts showed that the companies’ writers, producers and editors “bring enormous value to the major platforms for whom they create content.”

The contracts establish minimum base pay of $57,000 for union members at The Ringer and $73,000 at Gimlet Media, annual pay increases of at least 2 percent, and a minimum of 11 weeks of severance pay.

The agreements include provisions that limit the use of contractors and allow workers to receive titles that reflect their seniority.

The two companies will create diversity committees that include managers and union members, and will require that at least half the candidates seriously considered for union positions open to outsiders come from underrepresented groups, such as racial minorities or people with disabilities.

Read the complete article here.