DOL Takes Paid Leave Away from Low Wage Healthcare Workers

New Orleans     This is complicated, so hang with me, but here is what you need to know.

  • Nursing home workers and other frontline healthcare providers like home health aides, and community home workers for the differently able account for perhaps the largest portion of the death count, as we pass 200,000 fatalities nationally from Covid-19.
  • Many of these workers are among the lowest paid service workers in the country.
  • A vast proportion of these workers are women and members of minority and ethnic groups.
  • Most of these workers do not have health insurance provided for them as employees and certainly not for their families.

Are you with me so far?  These are workers who need all the support we can give them during this pandemic.  Local 100 represents a bunch of these workers in Louisiana and other states.

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) earlier this year.  Among its many provisions there was an Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) that provided two weeks of paid leave, reimbursed by the government to the employer, for workers forced to take off because of the virus, either to quarantine or for other reasons.   Given the paucity of benefits along these lines, this was literally a lifesaver for many lower waged healthcare workers in these facilities who usually had such skinny sick leave provisions that they would have been forced to work sick or hide symptoms, possible endangering themselves and the patients under their care.

A New York-based federal judge has struck down some of the Department of Labor regulations that determined eligibility and utilization of the leave.  Recently, the DOL issued new regulations for implementing Families First until the end of the year.  Some of what employers sought, the DOL fixed for them as a matter of simple clarification:  no paid leave, if no paid work; prior notice to employer required to take leave; and verification of sickness to employer.   More disturbingly, the new regulations expanded significantly the definition of “health providers” that would not be eligible for the paid leave.  Where before it was doctors, nurse practitioners, and emergency responders among others without whom there would have be no functioning healthcare system anywhere, now the DOL swept up everyone else in direct and indirect patient care and specifically enumerated nurses, LPNs, nursing home aides, home health aides, and others, all the way to lab techs that might be processing the Covid tests.

How is this not a forced-work provision for all of these workers on the frontlines?  The public can applaud and thank them, but for the vast majority, they will have to work – and work sick – to protect their paychecks, risking their own lives, their patients and clients, and the community itself, because of financial necessity.

Why is this a gift to employers?  We have all read stories of nurses being paid double and triple their normal wages to maintain staff ratios at hospitals.  Our union was able to negotiate pandemic pay for a number of these workers as facilities had to finally step up in order to staffed up.  No matter the intention of the policy to protect the healthcare system, the effect of the policy will be forced work, not healthcare to benefit employers, and certainly not workers or patients.

The DOL’s regulations added that nothing in this new rule, effective until the end of the year, would prevent a worker from taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, but of course there is a huge difference.  Families First paid for up to two weeks of leave, and FMLA is leave without pay.

This may have seemed complicated in the beginning, but now I’ll bet it is pretty easy to understand.


The Vultures Are Circling the Housing Market

New Orleans      Following right behind the crisis that tenants are facing with the eviction situation clouded in different courts and interpretations and no stimulus in the offing, mortgage holders are in a similar mess as the pandemic depression lengthens.  REITs and private equity operators on Wall Street are raising mountains of cash once again to see if they can exploit the crisis as they did in the 2007-2008 Great Recession by flipping foreclosures from homeowners into rental property.

A common line in the farm crisis of the 1970s, when tens of thousands lost their land, was the problem of being “land rich and dirt poor,” where if your grandfather had paid off the land, you might survive, but if not, you were going under.  A headline in the Wall Street Journal on the vultures circling desperate home owners was reminiscent, speaking of the numbers of people who were “home rich and cash poor.”  The story noted a disturbing statistic,

Some 3.5 million home loans—a 7.01% share—were in forbearance as of Sept. 6, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Many more borrowers are behind on their payments but not in forbearance programs with their lenders.

The disaster profiteers are making single family homes their war zone whether outside of city center cores or in the suburbs, and they are rolling in money.  The big winners then are now among the nation’s largest landlords.

So far these companies have reported record occupancy, on-time rent collection on par with historical averages and rising rents. Shares of … Invitation Homes Inc. and American Homes 4 Rent, are up 79% and 59%, respectively, since stocks bottomed….

The vultures may not be as large outside of the suburbs, but they are as ravenous.  An article in Shelterforce referencing a recent report on all-cash purchases in New York City made this critical and disturbing observation,

Because COVID-19 has an outsized impact on lower-income Black and Latino families, it will intensify the disadvantage these families have in the face of cash purchasers who use their resources to pick up single-family homes, co-ops, and condos,” reads the report. It could also result in rising prices and fewer affordable homes available for sale overall, a potential increase in the number of distressed neighborhoods anchored by fewer local landlords or homeowners, and a growing concentration of housing in a small number of for-profit hands.

Shelterforce notes that some community developers in some cities are better situated to protect some of this housing as affordable and to modify some of the properties they acquire, but if the impact of this depression is anywhere near that of 2007-2008, it will be a drop in the ocean in most of the country.

Once again, we have to fear that without a huge federal and state response, this isn’t going to end well for millions of families.