Tag Archives: Health Care Workers

Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Hazardous Duty Pay

New Orleans       The irony and contradictions around so-called “essential” workers are vexing – mainly to the workers themselves.  They have to go to work because they are, by definition, essential, yet employers in the main seem both committed to labeling them as essential and continuing to treat them, their health concerns, and their wage as trivial.

Some companies, especially those that have seen their sales soar during stay-at-home restrictions have added pay bumps, but in our heart of hearts, we really know this has nothing to do with hazards, but everything to do with trying to keep workers coming into work, rather than collecting supplemental unemployment.  Amazon and Target both say that will continue making such payments through May, as do some others.  According to a report in the Wall Street Journal,

“Only one in four companies that require employees on-site are offering hazard pay, according to an April survey by WorldatWork, a nonprofit professional association.  Retail workers were likely to get extra pay, with 46% of grocers and other essential retailers offering hazard wages, compared with 29% of health-related employers.”

It’s kind of confounding that healthcare workers get the Blue Angels flyovers and the evening clapping, while liquor store workers are more likely to get hazard pay.

Partly, I wonder if there is an information gap for healthcare facilities that has been obscured by the small business loan meltdown.  From some of Local 100, United Labor Union, employers we know there was a fairly heavy multi-billion-dollar chunk of the several trillion-stimulus packages set aside to support healthcare institutions.  One of our employers with less than 500 workers has been able to access the money and is paying a daily premium and a bonus.  One of our nursing homes is doing the same and offering a $1000 bonus to workers who stay on the job through May.  Several of the nursing homes have negotiated permanent raises and contract amendments in order to keep certified nursing assistants, realizing the market is dire without fairer wages, now finally exceeding $13 and $14 per hour.  It’s a good thing since 176 of Louisiana’s 279 homes has reported covid-19 cases.  Some of our employers are too large to qualify.  Others are likely too small and disorganized to realize that they are eligible and could and should have applied.  Of course, our union is using this information as an organizing tool for workers in hazardous situations who are not receiving hazard duty pay.

Some are trying to call this long-needed adjustment to the minimal wages of healthcare and other service workers as “hero” pay.  The New York City Council has introduced a bill to require workers with more than 100 workers to pay an extra $60 for shifts up to eight hours.  The Journal quotes a McDonald’s worker in North Carolina offered $20 per shift and $200 bonus saying, “They call it hero pay, which is a really funny way to say ‘cheap hazard pay.’”

She’s hit the nail on the head.  With reports of meat packing workers, grocery workers, bus drivers, healthcare workers, cleaners and others dying from coronavirus exposure because they did their jobs and their jobs were essential, such pay should be universal and shouldn’t be just nickels and dimes per hour.

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Please enjoy Love Your Own Power by Natalie Jean.

Thanks to WAMF.

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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 RIPMedicalDebt.org, 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?

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