Tag Archives: workers

Home Work

Little Rock      There is talk everywhere about “re-opening.”  When?  How?  The “new” normal is a question on everyone’s mind.  I find it interesting and curious how much you hear about people working from home.  The Times cited a poll the other day, saying that

Gallup found that almost 60 percent of Americans working from home would prefer to work remotely “as much as possible” after restrictions are lifted, with 40 percent saying they preferred to return to the workplace.

In the article the reporter offered the usual disclosures that this was a white-collar privilege and presumed people fortunate enough to be able to have a job that allowed them to in fact be working at all.  The reporter in interviewing several mothers with younger children didn’t point out how fortunate they were with schools and day care centers being closed to be able to also work with home with their children, rather than being “essential” and having to find a waystation for them.  In another article in the paper they reported on a poll on home schooling where men claimed they were doing about half of the job and only 3% of women agreed that was the case when they were polled.  Clearly, women are holding up way more than half the world in this pandemic, but once by default that assumes women are available at home for such schooling, which ignores the huge percentage of women who are essential workers.  I found a quote from Cecilia Nibbs, a 30-year Brooklyn-based grocery store worker to be telling on this subject when she stated flatly about her essential work, “Some people be a doctor, some people be a teacher, and some people be like me, a worker.”

Citing the arguments for home-based work, the list included less commute time, a claimed savings on gasoline and day care of between $2000 and $6000 a year, as well as a possible 13% increase in productivity, and more job satisfaction if they only had to work no more than 15 hours a week at home.   This is pretty thin soup if people are assuming that home work is likely to increase after the pandemic.

Embedded in the savings for daycare is the assumption, once again, that someone is able to both work productively and watch, and perhaps teach, the children at the same time, and presumably that means women.  That’s not a good bet.  There was also an assumption that home work has to be “set up properly,” and that means having equipment, great internet, a great telephone or cell package, and the ability to outfit a mini-office.  Anyone who believes that companies who have invested in office space and all the physical and technical infrastructure that goes with that space are also going to finance an at home equivalent, is misguided.  Our union had to loan an organizer a desk to work from home, because his coffee table wasn’t making it, and no one believes work from a bed is going to end up being permanent.

No one can make a case that people-based and dependent work is home work.  Nor can anyone make the case that Zooming and teleconferencing can really replace people-to-people collaboration and meetings face to face either at the office, on the road, or in conferences.  Home work may have some advocates, and there have always been people who either had to work from home or felt that worked for them, but I’m doubtful that this will be a trend that dominates the near future.  I’m also skeptical that it should.  We need to make workplaces better for all workers, not increase the class divide between homes and offices that allows some to retreat, while the rest of the workforce soldiers on and fights to advance.

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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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