Category Archives: Labor Organizing

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!


Some Changes the Coronavirus Should Bring

Pearl River     In the Age of Trump and the Time of the Coronavirus, there seems to be constant speculation about what changes in our society, habits, and government might be permanent given our collective experience.  Much of this is hyperbole.  One pundit argued that he went “to sleep in America and woke up in democratic socialist Europe.”  Oh, if dreams could come true!  Let’s instead talk about lessons we should learn in this crisis, and things that should absolutely change in the wake of this crisis.

The Affordable Care Act is now ten years old, celebrating its anniversary during the lockdown.  No matter Trump’s rhetoric and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican caucus, can anyone make the case that the private health insurance and the patchwork quilt of state health coverage is adequate for our people?  The elimination of mandatory coverage left our hospital network damaged, albeit their greedy pricing of their services, drugs, and the like are major players as well, forced mergers and left us with too many sick and not enough beds, equipment, and personnel.  Millions in states across the country are facing this crisis without any insurance.  That has to change.

How could we not learn that the internet has to become a public utility?  How could we not realize that we finally have to take this matter out of the hands of the telecoms and the pattycake FCC voluntary programs and eliminate the digital divide, here and around the world?  How can all the ideologues who want to argue that education is the answer, despite the facts, maintain their position as the country from elementary to college is pushed into on-line learning, leaving lower income families even farther behind?   Put this near the top of the list.

Living wages, paid sick leave, real unemployment benefits, the play pretend that gig workers are not employees, are all things that we have once again been taught have to be part of the safety net for everyone, especially lower waged workers and their families.   The failure of government in this crisis has to end the argument that somehow the private sector and the magic of market forces are somehow going provide for families.  They never have, and they never will.  That’s why we need a government, it’s time to make them do the job.

I didn’t put this on the top of the list, but our union represents home care workers, nursing home workers, developmentally disabled workers, and the government and society has depended on them for care as much as they do hospital workers, yet they are severely underpaid and under resourced.  Good health care is a top to bottom priority, and we have to guarantee our people that they will be provided for when in care, and when giving care.

Yes, people will finally learn to wash their hands better, but the virus ought to bring forward a host of changes that we desperately need and can no longer ignore.  The temptation by policy makers will be to fight the last war, rather than the next, by putting more respirators and masks into production.  Many of us will include different items in our “run for it” bags and storage closets for sure.  But we need to learn from this that there are fundamental changes that we have to make in protection and provision for our people, and we need to do it now.