Tag Archives: Covid

Pandemic Changes Could be Permanent

Chicago          Understand me clearly.  I was lucky.  I had a dawn run from Columbus to Chicago and then onto Atlanta in the weirdness of travel during the pandemic.  It made sense to stay as close to the airport as possible, and I ended up at a Hampton Inn, now a Hilton property, there between the construction of a new parking garage and the rental car return.  Location, location, location, so I was a happy camper on that score.

The Hampton was doing a good business.  The lot was pretty full by my reckoning.  There were a lot of pandemic signs and adjustments.  Masks were required.  Sanitizer was available.  Plexiglass was in front of the front desk.

In a nice move, although they had shut down free breakfast, they at least showed signs of some grace and were giving a nosh to go in the morning.  In my mind, I noted a job or two lost for the workers who once arrived early, got the food together, kept the coffee brewing, and then cleaned up with others when it was over.  A good four-hour shift for a couple of hourly service workers.  I wondered if this would be permanent?  The housekeeping director was passing out the boxed snack.

I was out early for meetings in Marysville, Ohio with my partner on the Voter Purge Project, Steve Tingely-Hock and back after dark to catch up on email, work, and be ready for the first flight connections out to Atlanta.  I walked into the room, and was surprised to see everything just like I had left it.  No coffee had been replenished.  No bed made.  Despite the notes about where to put the towels for cleaning or reuse, everything was the same.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t trash out a hotel room, when I’m called to duty.  I’m glad to DYI all the way, but when the organization is paying almost $100 a night, I felt kind of ripped off.  I assumed they had been short staffed.  Stuff happens.  I walked back to the front desk so I could get a couple of coffee packets for the next morning.

When I talked to the night man, and said, “sorry, but my room didn’t get cleaned, so can I get some coffee,” he replied, yes to the coffee, but then launched into a rap where the main theme was, “didn’t you know it wouldn’t be cleaned.?  It’s only done on-demand.”  How as I supposed to know that I asked?  No one said a word when I checked in?  He claimed it was posted on the door and two other places in my room.  Really, I said?  Seems like this has less to do with the pandemic, and more to do with cutting the payroll?  Going back into the room, I could only find one notice, affixed to a mirror over the desk table.

No worries.  We overpaid, but I’ll live.  What really worries me is that this seems mainly a way to cut the payroll.  The nightman was still on duty as I left in the morning.  He tried to apologize.  I said it wasn’t necessary.  This was just company policy to cut the staff, right?  He shrugged, and said, yes.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to organize hotel workers and cleaners.  The DC court of appeals recently sent an NLRB case back for rehearing when a union tried to petition for a housekeeping unit separate from food-and-beverage, exactly the case we won against the Hyatt almost forty years ago.

Once companies as big and bold as the Hilton can figure out that they can reduce the housekeeping and cleaning staff down to almost nothing and charge the same prices as always, will these pandemic pushouts ever be called back?  I wonder.  I doubt it.

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Cruel and Usual Punishment for Prisoners

Pearl River      Just when you might think things can’t get any worse, it turns out you don’t know half of it.  At least, that’s how I felt visiting with Professor Nick Zaller on Wade’s World.  Zaller is a well-regarded and oft-cited researcher and professor of public health at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) complex.  He specializes in the intersection of public health, infectious diseases, including HIV and the impact of the opioid crisis, and the criminal justice system.  At this intersection, there isn’t a stop sign, but a skull-and-crossbones!

I had read a blurb in the Arkansas papers some months ago when he was calling for the governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, to follow through on the speedy release of over 1200 prisoners due to the coronavirus epidemic.  He was gently gigging the governor.  The outside of the sandwich was praise for the release, but the inside was disappointment that at that time only 25% of those prisoners had actually been released.  Now with more than six-months of the pandemic under our belts and all over our bodies, I reached out to see what he saw as the state of affairs on this mess.

It wasn’t pretty.  Because the data is sketchy, Zaller was not sure that now, months and months later, that any more than the first 25% had been released.  Meanwhile, he cited the fact that nationally 100,000 prisoners have contracted Covid-19 and, as disturbingly, 25,000 prison staff members.  Prison confinement, he noted, is obviously the opposite of social distancing, but even with those physical constraints, the slowness of providing PPE to prisoners and staff and changing behaviors in line with basic public health precautions advocated now, have exacerbated the issues.

The real fix in Zaller’s view required expenditures, including in the very infrastructure of the prison system, where in Arkansas, typical of so many Southern states, legislators don’t want to spend the money, even as the costs of captivity increase.  Meanwhile the prisons try to be self-sufficient even while providing prison labor for free.  The end result, as Zaller noted, was that Lincoln County south of Little Rock, where the giant Cummins prison is located, was one of the top ten virus hot spots nationally, and the worst in the state, not only inside the walls, but outside as the guards went back in the community.  The horror of the Arkansas system was once again a national scandal and featured in a New Yorker article which made the case that a prison sentence in Arkansas was now a death sentence no matter the crime.  Sadly, the pandemic has proven that incarceration in Arkansas and elsewhere is simply cruel and usual punishment, regardless of the classic prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

It was impossible not to ask Professor Zaller how it felt as a public health expert to find oneself simultaneously in the pandemic on both the public’s list of heroes for many and the right wing’s enemy list for others.  Once that door was opened, the soapbox was large enough for both of us, as Zaller called for the simple, common sense, classically American practice to value and protect the community when threatened, not just to fly the pirate flag of “my way or the highway.”

At 100,000 watts, I hope everyone was listening both in front and behind the bars.

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