Workers Virus Rights for Big Companies

Pearl River     The stimulus bill overs some expanded rights for workers at companies with under 500 workers.  What do you do if your employer has over 500 workers and is refusing to do the right things to protect workers, including those exposed to the coronavirus?

Employees caught in exactly that situation at Instacart, a tech company that delivers groceries and other household items ordered through an app, plan a nationwide strike.  Workers are saying that the company has not provided them with personal protection supplies.  According to the New York Times, the company has approximately 200,000 shoppers, with plans to add 300,000 over the next three months.  Of course, the company maintains the fiction that these employees are independent contractors, but in many ways the stimulus bill collapsed that fiction as the government took charge of providing unemployment and leave provisions for these workers even though the tight-fisted, scam companies had not paid in for their benefits.

ResCare, a national company, where Local 100 United Labor Unions has a collective bargaining agreement covering their workers in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, maintains community homes for MH/MR consumers.  Three of our members were exposed by a consumer with the virus.  Asking about paid leave and protections for our members, the company essentially told the union, hey, we have over 500 workers, why don’t you go screw yourself.  When we asked for the employee list required by our contract and labor law, ResCare said, go to the NLRB and file a charge, trying to stonewall any protection for the workforce.

Can ResCare, Instacart, and other big companies get away with that?  Well, yes, and no.  Yes, they can refuse to meet the emergency leave standards of the stimulus bill.  Congress likely didn’t cover them because the political optics looked bad for the government and the taxpayers to be financing benefits for big companies.  But, no, they have the legal obligation to provide a safe workplace under Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) standards.  Furthermore, in the case of a healthcare facility, they are federally reimbursed for their care and licensed by the state, in this case Louisiana, so they are potentially in a world of hurt by refusing to safeguard their workers or the homes for the consumers.

The Wall Street Journal in a “tips” piece for the few workers who might be reading, but mainly let’s hope for the employers, included some stern warnings for employers like ResCare and others, that I’ll share.

Federal and state laws require employers to provide a safe workplace, says Heather Bussing, attorney with Rybicki & Associates, PC. ‘If you are in direct contact with people who have Covid-19, then your employer is probably required to provide you with protective equipment.’ If an employer asks someone to put themselves at unreasonable risk, it is probably illegal,’ Ms. Bussing says.  “But if there are ways to do the work that minimize the risk of exposure, then an employer would be within their rights to fire some who refuses.’  The best approach is to minimize exposure. But employees who believe they have been exposed or feel sick should stay home and refuse to work, even under the threat of being fired, she says.  Employers who know a worker has been exposed or is sick and require that person to work and risk exposing others could face civil and criminal liability.

So, sure you can tell your workers to risk their lives without equipment and at peril for your job.  Heck, you can even tell their union to go play in traffic, if there is any.  But either way you court the whirlwind, and I can guarantee that it’s coming for you and your company!


Paying for Coronavirus and Medical Debt

Pearl River     Ten percent of Americans have absolutely, flat-to-the-bone, no health insurance.  Many others have Trump-plan insurance with high deductibles, covering nothing much at all, but maybe catastrophes up to certain lifetime payment levels.  Many of these same people are exactly the people who have to work, rain or shine, not because they are delivering the mail, although those folks are on the job as well, but because they are the underpaid infrastructure of the service economy from health care to food service to almost anything you can name.

Yesterday, one of the consumers at ResCare, a large national company where we represent workers in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans in their community home operations, tested positive for coronavirus.  He’s still in the home, although with others.  Three of our workers are exposed.  There is no personal protective gear other than gloves, and in having forced the company to share their policies, not much of a plan for the consumers or workforce on any deep and serious level.  The minimal health policy the company offers that complies with the Affordable Care Act takes the fully allowable 9% of wages and then requires a deductible of over $4000, which was not capped by Obamacare.  Out of some 250 workers, less than five, and I’m being liberal here, actually participate, yet all of them are barred from the subsidies and supports available on the ACA marketplace, because their company offers something that is called health insurance and in compliance.  We’re on this like white-on-rice, but if any of our workers get the virus, they could be in big trouble.

Testing is free, reportedly, and the stimulus package forces insurers and employers to cover the tests.  Of course, if you hit the doc and don’t have the virus, that’s good news with a but…since you could still owe for the visit and a copay.  If you have it, the treatment will cost you.  The Wall Street Journal estimates low end $1300 out-of-pocket, but with major complications more than $20,000.  You could also have surprise bills of course, because despite bipartisan agreement, the lobbyists managed to sidetrack Congress this year on that problem.  Of course, if these lower waged, essential healthcare workers had managed to sneak onto Medicaid, under the Louisiana expansion, rare in the south, there would be no cost.  In Texas, no such luck, and same for a bunch of other states like Mississippi, Alabama, and the rest.

If they lived through it, welcome to medical debt.  On Wade’s World,  I was talking to an old colleague, Chuck Shuford, who has become an advocate demanding action on medical debt in rural Virginia where he lives now.  He talked about, where he has become involved.  They buy debt for pennies on the dollar.  Churches and others have pitched in to get rid of millions in debt, and they have created a special fund for Appalachia.

That’s a good thing, but for ResCare workers or anyone in the United States, there shouldn’t be any medical debt.  Period.  Why do we allow such a system?  Isn’t the coronavirus teaching us to build a better system?