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.

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.

Silicon Valley’s essential workers form new group to fight for work rights

From today’s San Jose Spotlight:

A group of six essential workers and labor leaders stood in front of McDonnell Hall in San Jose Wednesday—the same church labor activist Cesar Chavez started his now-iconic labor organizing more than 50 years prior.

The workers are looking to craft the future of the labor movement among essential workers for the next 50 years, starting with combating unfair treatment from employers, elected officials and corporations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They announced Wednesday the launch of a new initiative called the Essential Workers Council, a collective of 14 members from diverse professional fields in the South Bay, including medical workers, security, grocery workers, childcare, construction and education. The council has been established by Silicon Valley Rising, a collective of leaders who advocate for workers’ rights and affordable housing.

“As workers on the front lines of this crisis, we need to be the ones setting the agenda for recovery,” said Deo Agustin, a childcare worker and member of the new council. “We can’t let business leaders decide how things should be run.”

The group, with local labor leaders’ help, hopes to lobby elected leaders for more essential worker protections during and after the pandemic, such as higher wages, more widespread hazard payrent relief, stronger eviction protections and affordable childcare.

“Even as mostly Black and brown people put their lives at risk, dying at disproportionately higher rates, too many corporate executives and elected leaders have ignored their needs and their voices,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, director of Silicon Valley Rising, on Wednesday. “They call this work essential, but not the people, their families and our communities.”

The coronavirus has killed Black and Latino residents in the county at a far higher rate than other races. Latinos in particular make up 25% of the county’s population but account for 51% of cases and nearly 29% of deaths, according to county numbers. Those racial groups are overrepresented in essential work.

The council, frustrated by the lack of clear leadership from their employers to combat COVID-19, such as providing enough personal protective equipment and socially-distanced workspaces, spoke out about their experiences in working while living in fear that they would contract the coronavirus.

Read the complete article here.

L.A. County approves ‘hero pay’ of $5 an hour for grocery store workers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Hundreds of grocery store workers in unincorporated Los Angeles County will receive $5 an hour in hazard pay on top of their regular wages as part of the county’s “hero pay” mandate that goes into effect Friday and lasts 120 days.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to mandate the pay bump for publicly traded grocery store or retail drug companies, or companies that have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store site. The measure applies only to unincorporated areas, benefiting about 2,500 hourly grocery store workers.

“These workers … have put their lives on the line since the beginning of the pandemic to keep our food supply chain running and provide access to medicine our families need,” Supervisor Hilda Solis, who authored the motion, said in a statement. “Many are working in fear and without adequate financial support, while their employers continue to see profits grow and top executives receive steep pay bonuses.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against the measure, saying she felt that it leaves out many essential workers and that it could have unintended consequences.

Barger said officials have worked hard to bring retailers to food deserts in unincorporated areas, such as Grocery Outlet in Altadena, which has donated food for food drives during the pandemic.

“I would hate to think we’re driving [out of business] the very businesses we fought so hard to locate in unincorporated areas, many of which are working class neighborhoods … and that’s why I can’t vote for this,” said Barger, the only Republican on the board.

Since January, several cities, including Santa Monica, San Jose, Berkeley and West Hollywood, have considered or passed some level of hazard pay mandates.

The county’s ordinance will probably be challenged in court in the coming days by the California Grocers Assn., which has sued the city of Long Beach after it passed its “hero pay” measure.

Read the complete article here.

San Jose passes mandatory $3-an-hour pay raise for grocery workers

From today’s San Jose Mercury News:

Thousands of San Jose grocery store workers will soon receive a $3-an-hour boost on their paychecks, as San Jose became the latest city to pass a new ordinance compelling large grocers to offer their employees  hazard pay for their high risk of catching COVID-19 at work.

The San Jose City Council voted 7-3 Tuesday night for a new ordinance temporarily requiring corporate grocery stores, chain supermarkets and retail stores that sell groceries and employ at least 300 people nationwide to pay workers an additional $3 an hour on top of their regular wages. The ordinance will last for 120 days after it goes into effect. Small businesses and franchises with less than 300 employees are exempt.

The ordinance failed to clear a requirement that it must be backed by at least eight members of the council to become effective immediately. Instead, the majority vote means that the new ordinance will be enacted in about two months.

Councilman Sergio Jimenez, who crafted the ordinance, said he had hoped that it would have garnered more support but was nonetheless pleased that the city will provide relief to front line grocery workers.

“I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do in my gut,” Jimenez said. “And I’m hoping that in 120 days, the sky didn’t fall, stores didn’t close, the economy is looking up and these companies continue to do well.”

San Jose will soon join the cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Seattle, which have all passed similar ordinances in recent weeks to mandate increased wages for grocery store workers. Santa Clara County will vote later this month on a $5-an-hour boost on the paychecks of workers in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants everywhere in the county, except for San Jose.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Dev Davis and Matt Mahan voted against the ‘hazard pay’ legislation Tuesday night, citing an inadequate analysis of the possible financial effects, concerns over potential store closings and increased grocery prices and a disagreement over exactly which companies should be affected by the legislation. Councilmember Pam Foley recused herself from the vote because she holds stock in Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods, which would be affected by the ordinance.


Read the complete story here.

Op-Ed: The Work-From-Home Employee Bill of Rights Outlined in Seven Articles

From today’s ComputerWorld Online:

Remote work became the new normal quickly as COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns came into force in spring 2020, and it’s clear that after the pandemic recedes, remote work will remain the norm for many employees — as much as half the deskbound “white collar” workforce, various research firms estimate. As a result of the sudden lockdowns, many employees had to create makeshift workspaces, buy or repurpose personal equipment, and figure out how to use new software and services to be able to keep doing their jobs.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution overlays a photo of a woman working remotely by laptop.

Users and IT departments alike made Herculean efforts to adapt quickly and ensure business continuity, and the result was an improvement in productivity despite the pandemic. But now the pandemic has become a longer-term phenomenon, and remote work will become more commonplace, even desirable as a way to save on office expenses and commute time, even after the pandemic subsides.

So now it’s time for companies and employees alike to formalize remote work standards and policies. And it’s time for employees to advocate for themselves, so they don’t bear a disproportionate burden in enabling the new remote work reality. This employee bill of rights is meant to help them do just that.

Article 1: The employer provides clear rules and standards for remote work.

Many employees want to continue to work from home at least some of the time, according to multiple surveys conducted across the globe by AdeccoBoston Consulting GroupGallupIBMPwCEngagerocket, and others.

It’s therefore critical that businesses have a clear policy around who must work at home, who may work at home, and who may only work in an office or other company facility — as well as any requirements around how often the use of office space is required or allowed.

Typically, these standards will be based on the employee’s role. But there does need to be flexibility — spelled out in the policy — to handle people who have extenuating circumstances. For example, some employees may need to work at an office even if they theoretically could work at home (such as people in crowded households or with poor broadband access), and some may need to work at home even if they theoretically could work in an office (such as to monitor or care for relatives throughout the day).

Read the complete article here.

United Airlines might require its employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine

From today’s New York Times:

The chief executive of United Airlines told the company’s employees this week that the carrier — and other businesses — could make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all workers.

“It’s the way to ensure the safety of our employees,” United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby said.

“The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of co-workers that we have lost to the coronavirus,” the executive, Scott Kirby told employees at a virtual town hall on Thursday, according to a transcript of the remarks. “And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine — and I recognize it’s controversial — I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.”

Some states, such as New York, have already made the vaccine available to flight attendants, pilots and other airline and airport employees. United has encouraged employees to get the vaccine as soon as they can.

Mr. Kirby’s comments, first reported by CNBC, do not reflect actual corporate policy. The airline would need to overcome logistical hurdles before requiring its tens of thousands of employees to get vaccinated and would need other businesses to join it in requiring vaccination, he said.

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines declined to comment on whether it will require the vaccine, but said the carrier is advocating that flight crews are considered essential workers for the purposes of vaccine distribution. American Airlines said on Thursday that it is encouraging its employees to get the vaccine, but won’t require it unless necessary for employees who fly to destinations where it is mandated.

Read the complete article here.

CA’s unemployment fraud may top $9 billion, doubling estimate, expert warns

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

As an army of investigators tries to pin down the scope of unemployment benefit fraud in California, the head of a security firm working for the state is warning that payments of fraudulent claims could more than double the $4 billion previously estimated, and that a flood of those claims involve overseas crime rings.

At least 10% of unemployment claims may have been fraudulent before controls were installed in October, according to Blake Hall, founder and chief executive of the company ID.me., which has been hired by the state Employment Development Department to weed out fraud. A 10% fraud rate could total $9.8 billion of the benefits paid from March through September.

Much of the fraud in California and other states is coming from organized criminal gangs operating in some 20 foreign countries, including Russia, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey and Bulgaria, Hall said.

“When the Russians and the Nigerians and the Chinese are the players on the field, they are going to put up some points,” Hall told The Times. “This is a very sophisticated cyberattack that’s being run at scale.”

Hall’s firm was hired by the EDD to begin checking unemployment claims in October, and since then 30% of the claims it screened turned out to be fraudulent. Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 11, Hall said his firm blocked 463,724 fraudulent claims, which he said would represent more than $9 billion if the EDD had paid $20,000 on each claim.

The EDD has so far paid out $113 billion in unemployment benefits during the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $43 billion as part of an expedited — and less secure — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

State officials were recently warned by Bank of America, which is under contract with the EDD to issue debit cards to distribute benefits, that there is evidence that fraud could total more than $4 billion in California. A task force of county, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors is continuing an investigation to identify all of the fraud, which has also involved claims in the names of prison inmates.

Read the complete article here.

J-1 Visa Recipients Stuck in US during Pandemic Are Demanding Their Rights

From today’s The Nation Magazine Online:

By mid-March, Mars was starting to worry. The 27-year-old was living and working in Little Rock, Ark., where the mayor had just imposed a midnight curfew. Restaurants and shopping malls were beginning to be shuttered. On March 20, Arkansas recorded the state’s biggest one-day spike in Covid-19 cases since the outbreak began.

Mars is from the Philippines, and he came to the United States last year on a visa called the J-1. Technically, his J-1 visa is meant for “trainees”; by March, he was eight months into a year-long work placement at a well-known hotel chain where he was supposed to be receiving management training. (He and the other workers interviewed for this story asked The Nation not to publish their last names or the names of their workplaces for fear of retaliation.) To get that position, which paid $11 an hour, Mars had to pay $10,000—plus a $7,000 bond—to a recruiting agency in the Philippines, which then arranged the placement through the State Department’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program. He arrived in Little Rock in debt. 

Mars had been keeping tabs on the hotel’s occupancy rate, noting the rising number of cancellations. When he raised concerns to the HR department on March 19, they assured him that the hotel staff would weather the crisis as a team. Three days later, HR handed him a termination letter.

I didn’t know what to do,” Mars told me“I felt betrayed.”

Mars became one of thousands of J-1 visa program participants—many of them from the Philippines—who have been effectively stranded in the United States after losing their positions because of Covid-19. They may be unable or unwilling to return home. Many paid thousands of dollars in fees to get here, and some worked only a few days or weeks before being laid off. The stakes are especially high for Filipino recipients; remittances sent home by overseas Filipinos keep an estimated 10 million Filipino families afloat. J-1 workers also face a hurdle that other overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, do not: Neither the US nor the Philippine government considers them workers.

The J-1 is officially a cultural exchange visa, admitting 300,000 people into the United States each year. Despite little employer accountability and no Labor Department oversight, J-1 visa recipients have increasingly been used to fill US employers’ labor needs in hospitality, teaching, and other fields.  The Philippine government, similarly to the US State Department, classifies J-1 participants as study abroad students, rather than overseas workers. Yet US government oversight agencies, labor advocacy nonprofits, and grassroots organizations argue that the visa program functions as an unregulated pipeline for temporary migrant labor and props up US industries like hospitality and tourism. At its worst, the program creates the conditions for human trafficking.  

Read the complete article here.