Seven Wisconsin coronavirus cases linked to in-person voting

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Health officials in Wisconsin said they have identified at least seven people who appear to have contracted the coronavirus from participating in the April 7 election, the first such cases detected following in-person voting that was held despite widespread concern about the public health risks.

The cases involve six voters and one poll worker in Milwaukee, where a shortage of poll workers forced the city to pare nearly 200 voting locations back to just five, and voters — some in masks, some with no protection — were forced to wait in long lines for hours.

The conditions of the seven weren’t immediately available. City health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she hopes to have more information later in the week. Kowalik’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question from the Associated Press asking how city health officials were able to trace the infections to the election.

The election, which included a presidential primary as well as races for a state Supreme Court seat and local offices, took place after a legal struggle between Democrats and Republicans. The day before the election, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered that it be delayed and shifted to all-mail voting, only to be overturned when Republican legislative leaders won an appeal in the state’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court’s five Republican appointees also blocked a judge’s order that would have given voters an extra week to submit their ballots by mail.

Read the complete article here.

How the Coronavirus Could Create a New Working Class

From today’s Atlantic Online:

Late last month, a photo circulated of delivery drivers crowding around Carbone, a Michelin-starred Greenwich Village restaurant, waiting to pick up $32 rigatoni and bring it to people who were safely ensconced in their apartment. A police officer, attempting to spread out the crowd, reportedly said, “I know you guys are just out here trying to make money. I personally don’t give a shit!” The poor got socially close, it seems, so that the rich could socially distance.

The past few weeks have exposed just how much a person’s risk of infection hinges on class. Though people of all incomes are at risk of being laid off, those who can work from home are at least less likely to get sick. The low-income workers who do still have jobs, meanwhile, are likely to be stuck in close quarters with other humans. For example, grocery-store clerks face some of the greatest exposure to the coronavirus, aside from health-care workers. “Essential” businesses—grocery stores, pharmacies—are about the only places Americans are still permitted to go, and their cashiers stand less than an arm’s length from hundreds of people a day.

My inboxes have filled up with outcries from workers at big-box retailers, grocery stores, and shipping giants who say their companies are not protecting them. They say people are being sent into work despite having been in contact with people infected with the virus. They say the company promised to pay for their quarantine leave, but the payment has been delayed for weeks and they are running out of money. Or the company denied their medical leave because they don’t have proof of a nearly impossible-to-get COVID-19 test. Or the company doesn’t offer paid medical leave at all, and they’re wondering how they’ll pay for gas once they recover from the disease.

Masks are in short supply nationwide, and some managers have resisted allowing workers to wear them, fearing it will disrupt the appearance of normalcy. Some companies have rolled out “hazard pay” for employees, but in many cases it amounts to about $2 more an hour. The Amazon employees I’ve spoken with largely work fewer than 30 hours a week, and the company does not provide them with health insurance. One Walmart employee used up all his attendance “points” while sick with the virus, and was fired upon his return to work. (Walmart did not comment on his situation for my story.) At least 41 grocery-store workers have already died from the virus. “I make $14.60 an hour and don’t qualify for health care yet,” one grocery-store employee in New Mexico wrote to me. “I am freaked out.”

Meanwhile, many white-collar workers have no “points” system. Many such jobs offer as much paid time off as an employee and her manager agree to—a concept far beyond even the most generous policies at grocery stores. Many PR specialists, programmers, and other white-collar workers are doing their exact same job, except from the comfort of their home. Some are at risk of being laid off. But for the most part, they are not putting their lives in danger, except by choice.

Read the complete article here.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wants a bill of rights for essential workers

From today’s Boston.com:

Elizabeth Warren says the next coronavirus relief package should “put all workers front and center.” But the Massachusetts senator is also proposing a slate of new protections for those who don’t have the luxury of staying at home during the pandemic.

Warren and California Rep. Ro Khanna unveiled an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” on Monday aimed at boosting protections and benefits for the employees most exposed to COVID-19.

Experts say between 49 million and 62 million Americans are employed by industries designated as “essential” by the federal government. And while health care employees are viewed to be at the greatest risk of contracting the disease, the list also includes other “frontline” workers whose jobs continue to require them to be in close contact with other people during the outbreak, from grocery store workers and janitors to truck drivers and transportation employees to government and child care workers.

“Essential workers are the backbone of our nation’s response to coronavirus,” said Warren, who has called on Congress to end its weeks-long recess to pass additional legislation in response to the economic and public health crises wrought by the pandemic.

The federal government has issued some guidance for workers in the food retail industry, but Warren and Khanna want Congress to strengthen and expand those policies in the next relief package,

Their “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” proposal would require employers to provide all frontline workers with personal protective equipment and robust hazard pay “retroactive to the start date of the pandemic.” It would create a program to require — and reimburse — employers to provide up to 14 days of paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave during the public health crisis.

Read the complete article here.

Could the Pandemic Wind Up Fixing What’s Broken About Work in America?

From today’s New York Times:

Crises like pandemics, economic collapses and world wars have, at times throughout history, ended up reordering societies — shrinking the gap between the rich and the poor, or empowering the working class. The Black Death helped end feudalism. The Great Depression helped lead to the New Deal. Never has extreme economic inequality shrunk in a meaningful way, says the Stanford historian Walter Scheidel, without a major crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic, as of now, is not on the order of the plague, but it’s hitting the United States during a period of agitation about worsening inequality and waning power for workers. Already, it has made stark how precarious life is for many American workers, causing some to revolt. How employers and policymakers respond could improve work in the United States for the long term — or make the existing problems worse.

“Pandemics as a social shock do give workers more leverage to demand things,” said Patrick Wyman, a historian and host of the Tides of History podcast. “Crises like these reveal what is already broken or in the process of breaking.”

“They are attacks on a particular socioeconomic way of organizing your society,” he said. “The question is whether your institutions can make collective things happen.”

The United States is distinctive among rich countries in its lack of worker protections like nationwide paid sick leave, paid family leave and universal health insurance, and in its minimal labor union membership. For both high and low earners, many employers expect workers to be on call around the clock. Companies are typically beholden to shareholders first, above employees, customers and communities.

But the coronavirus pandemic has shown the flaw in that logic: Worker well-being is the foundation for everything else.

Read the complete article .

Democrats must make voting reform nonnegotiable for the next stimulus bill

From today’s Vox News Online:

The political climate in the US is tumultuous. The Covid-19 pandemic hangs over everything even as a dozen other issues — an oil crisis, a divided Democratic Party, and a corrupt, impeached president — compete for our scant remaining attention.

Into that muddle, I would like to introduce what I hope is a note of clarity, a fixed point around which all Americans of good faith ought to be able to rally.

To wit: Americans need to have safe, free, and fair federal elections in November.

The date of the election can’t be moved; it’s in the Constitution. The country is in a fragile, distrustful place already, and a chaotic election viewed by large swathes of the population as illegitimate could tip it over into a full-fledged constitutional crisis or even violence. This is a make-or-break issue for the country.

There is no way to stop Trump from characterizing the election as compromised; he accuses opponents of fraud in all elections, whether he wins or not. He has already tried to cheat in the 2020 election — got impeached for it just a couple of months/centuries ago — and will undoubtedly continue trying, even as he ramps up accusations against Democrats. He assumes Democrats will do the exact same thing: cheat and accuse him of cheating.

His tweet Wednesday morning captured his argument succinctly:

Donald J. Trump✔@realDonaldTrump Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends

Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends128K5:20 AM – Apr 8, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy69.2K people are talking about this

And where Trump goes, right-wing state media, led by Fox, dutifully follow. They will back him up with conspiracy theories about voter fraud that at least some large part of the core conservative base will believe.

But what happens around the margins matters. Committed partisans will line up the same way regardless of the fact that voting is not partisan (Utah, a red state, has a 100 percent vote-by-mail system.) But that leaves a large, fuzzy, semi-engaged class of voters whose opinion of the election will be shaped by their personal experience and the signals they receive from trusted sources about the validity of the process.

The best way for Democrats to ensure that November’s elections are viewed as free and fair amid a coronavirus pandemic is to make them so. The best way to make them so, in the time remaining, is to implement universal access to postage-paid mail-in ballots with extended deadlines, serviced by a funded and functional Postal Service. (This is not the only reform needed, but it is the backbone.)

Read the complete article here.

Grocery workers are beginning to die of coronavirus

From today’s Washington Post:

Major supermarket chains are beginning to report their first coronavirus-related employee deaths, leading to store closures and increasing anxiety among grocery workers as the pandemic intensifies across the country.

A Trader Joe’s worker in Scarsdale, N.Y., a greeter at a Giant store in Largo, Md., and two Walmart employees from the same Chicago-area store have died of covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, in recent days, the companies confirmed Monday.

Though more than 40 states have ordered nonessential businesses to close and told residents to stay home to stem the spread of the virus, supermarkets are among the retailers that remain open. Thousands of grocery employees have continued to report to work as U.S. infections and death rates continue to climb, with many reporting long shifts and extra workloads to keep up with spiking demand. Many workers say they don’t have enough protective gear to deal with hundreds of customers a day. Dozens of grocery workers have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks.

Industry experts say the rise of worker infections and deaths will likely have a ripple effect on grocers’ ability to retain and add new workers at a time when they’re looking to rapidly hire thousands of temporary employees. Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, is hiring 150,000 workers, while Kroger is adding more than 10,000. Many are offering an extra $2 an hour and promising masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. But finding people willing to work on the front lines for little more than the minimum wage could be an increasingly tough sell, according to supermarket analyst Phil Lempert.

“One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to,” he said. “They’re starting to become proactive now, but it’s still going to be much tougher to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers. We’re going to start seeing people say, ‘I’ll just stay unemployed instead of risking my life for a temporary job.’ “

Read the complete article here.

Siding with GOP legislature, Wisconsin GOP Supreme Court puts voters in harms way during COVID-19 pandemic

From today’s New York Times:

The Summer Olympics are delayed. March Madness was canceled. Even the pope celebrated Palm Sunday Mass before a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica.

But in Wisconsin, there could still be an election tomorrow.

Yes, you read that correctly: A state that has been under a stay-at-home order for nearly two weeks is about to hold an in-person election amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Just over an hour ago — and with just hours to go before the polls are scheduled to open — the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against a last-minute effort by Gov. Tony Evers to postpone the election until June 9, siding with a Republican-controlled State Legislature that has resisted making nearly any changes to voting during the worldwide crisis.

The last-minute fighting over whether it is safe for people to vote tomorrow injects even more chaos into an election already rife with legal challenges and public safety concerns.

It’s a situation that could foreshadow the kind of politically toxic battles over voting that the country may face this fall, if the virus lingers into the November election. (Wisconsin has more than 2,000 reported coronavirus cases and at least 80 deaths.)

Mr. Evers, a Democrat, had previously said that he lacked the legal authority to move the election, but today he argued that a postponement was necessary to protect voters and slow the spread of the virus.

Within minutes of his order, Republican legislative leaders called his move unconstitutional, instructing clerks to move forward with the election and challenging the order in the State Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority.

Read the complete article here.

Freelancers can get unemployment pay for jobs lost to coronavirus

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

New coronavirus laws provide a litany of benefits to the self-employed, freelancers and workers in the gig economy. But what are the benefits, and how do you claim them? Here are some answers explaining how the laws impact freelancers.

I lost my part-time gig because of the coronavirus lockdown. Can I claim unemployment insurance?

Yes. The federal CARES Act creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides unemployment insurance coverage to self-employed individuals, independent contractors and those with limited work history. (You must be available for work but unable to do your job as the result of the pandemic.) All of these individuals were barred from claiming state unemployment insurance benefits prior to the passage of this law.

How much will I get?

That depends on where you live. Each state operates its own unemployment insurance program. Requirements and pay-out ratios vary from state to state. For instance, California’s unemployment insurance program provides about 46% of working wages, up to set limits. Maximum unemployment benefits amount to $450 a week.

Thus, if you previously earned $1,000 a week ($4,000 a month), you’d get $450 in weekly unemployment coverage, or $1,800 per month from the state of California. The new CARES Act adds a federal payment of $600 a week to that. So, this hypothetical worker could get as much as $4,200 a month.

However, if you live in Alabama, the state’s maximum weekly benefit caps out at $275. Thus, an unemployed worker in Alabama would receive a top benefit of $1,100, plus $600 weekly from the CARES Act, for a total of $3,500.

Read the complete article here.

A 3,000% jump in jobless claims has devastated the US job market

From today’s CNN Online:

The last three weeks have marked one of the most devastating periods in history for the American job market, as first-time claims for unemployment benefits have surged more than 3,000% since early March. Businesses continue to lay off and furlough workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.6.6 million US workers filed for their first week of unemployment benefits in the week ending March 28, according to the Department of Labor — a new historic high.

That was far greater than economists had expected, and more than 3,000% the pre-pandemic levels. Unemployment claims at this level suggest a severe job market decline hardly any American alive has ever seen in their lifetimes.

Economists characterized the increase as “monstrous,” “stunningly awful,” and “a portrait of disaster.”Including the prior week’s 3.3 million initial claims, Americans have filed nearly 10 million jobless claims in the last two weeks alone. That corresponds to roughly 6% of America’s 165 million strong work force, which in turn implies a 9.5% unemployment rate, according to Citi economist Andrew Hollenhorst.

Read the complete article here.

Federal government is weighing an infrastructure push to create jobs

From today’s New York Times:

Fears are growing that the global downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and fear of the virus impedes consumer-led economic growth.

“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist and co-author of “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly,” a history of financial crises. “Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.”

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled, with the S&P 500 closing down more than 4 4 percent, bringing its decline over two days to 6 percent, as investors braced for worsening economic conditions ahead.

The economic readings continue to worsen as well. On Wednesday, surveys of manufacturing and factory activity in the United States, Europe and Japan showed activity slowing to levels not seen in a decade or more. In the United States, factory orders and employment measures fell to their lowest since 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said.

In Washington, there was growing concern that the $2 trillion stimulus package enacted last week could be insufficient. Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, are increasingly looking toward enacting a huge new infrastructure plan that could create thousands of jobs.

Read the complete article here.