TODAY’S MUST READ
We Could Have Stopped the Eviction Wave That’s Coming
July 27, 2021
Over the course of the pandemic, Washington allotted a lot of money to help tenants who couldn’t keep up with the rent: $46.6 billion. That’s almost twice as much as, and on top of, what the government usually spends each year helping low-income renters through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, better known as Section 8. The number was at least in the right ballpark to cover the payments missed by the country’s roughly 43 million renter households, many of whom lost jobs when the economy contracted last year. But a safety net only works if you can get it set up where it needs to be, and all these months into the crisis, local jurisdictions are still not doing a very good job. As Annie Lowrey puts it, writing about government benefits more broadly, “little attention is being paid to making things work, rather than making them exist.” Of the $25 billion the U.S. Treasury doled out this February for rent relief, local partners had delivered just $3 billion by June 30. That’s particularly important this week because the eviction moratorium enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last September expires on Saturday, July 31. That public health order has not given tenants ironclad protection, but it does appear to have kept evictions below pre-pandemic rates in jurisdictions without their own moratoriums, including cities like Cincinnati and Dallas and states like Indiana and Missouri, according to data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. In other words, beginning next week, millions of families may face evictions that should have been avoided. Certain cities and states have done an especially disgraceful job. Los Angeles has spent $23 million out of $236 million, with more than 100,000 applications filed for more than $530 million in aid. Georgia has $552 million to spend and as of June 15 had disbursed just $7 million. New York state set aside $2.7 billion and, as of a couple of weeks ago, had given out just $117,000. What makes this all the more discouraging is that it’s a replay of last year, when cities and states struggled to allot $2.6 billion in CARES Act money for rent help. Pennsylvania, for example, failed to give out $108 million of $175 million in federal rent relief money before the deadline—so most of the cash got redistributed to the state’s Department of Corrections. All in all, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, $1 of every $6 earmarked for rent assistance last year went toward some other public expense.
EMPLOYMENT AND LABOR LAW/NLRB
Biden Administration Moves to Tilt Pay and Power Toward Workers
Wall Street Journal
July 27, 2021
President Biden is advancing a series of regulatory changes aimed at increasing workers’ pay and gaining them other benefits, moves that opponents say could burden businesses amid an uneven economic recovery. The rule changes, most of which are still in progress, would affect workers such as federal contractors, tipped employees and workers who are jointly employed, such as those with jobs at franchised brands. In some cases, the changes seek to reverse Trump administration efforts. In others, the Labor Department is working to implement its own rules. These include the agency’s announcement last week that it had begun the process of raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour and ensuring it will continue rising to keep pace with inflation. The regulatory actions represent the administration’s “commitment to respecting and protecting workers’ rights, health and safety,” said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. Mr. Biden has proposed other policies aimed at tilting the balance of power toward workers from employers, including raising the federal minimum wage for private-sector employees, increasing wages for caregivers and making it easier for workers to organize labor unions. However, those changes would require congressional approval, a difficult undertaking in a narrowly divided Senate. Regulatory action allows the administration to see part of its agenda implemented without the need for Congress to pass legislation.
GENERAL WORKPLACE/THE ECONOMY
States that cut unemployment early aren’t seeing a hiring boom, but who gets hired is changing
Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam
July 27, 2021
The 20 Republican-led states that reduced unemployment benefits in June did not see an immediate spike in overall hiring, but early evidence suggests something did change: The teen hiring boom slowed in those states, and workers 25 and older returned to work more quickly. A new analysis by payroll processor Gusto, conducted for The Washington Post, found that small restaurants and hospitality businesses in states such as Missouri, which ended the extra unemployment benefits early, saw a jump in hiring of workers over age 25. The uptick in hiring of older workers was roughly offset by the slower hiring of teens in these states. In contrast, restaurants and hospitality businesses in states such as Kansas, where the full benefits remain, have been hiring a lot more teenagers who are less experienced and less likely to qualify for unemployment aid. The findings suggest hiring is likely to remain difficult for some time, especially in the lower-paying hospitality sector. The analysis also adds perspective to the teen hiring boom, revealing that more generous unemployment payments played a role in keeping more experienced workers on the sidelines, forcing employers to turn to younger workers. It indicates teen hiring could slow further in September, as unemployment benefits are reduced across the country and young people return to school. So far, early data suggests that cutting the benefits given to Americans who lost their jobs during the covid-19 pandemic has not led to a big pickup in hiring. The 20 states that reduced benefits in June had the same pace of hiring as the mostly Democrat-led states that kept the extra $300-a-week unemployment payments in place, according to state-level data from the Labor Department. Survey data from the Census Bureau and Gusto’s small-business payroll data show similar results.
As attempted border crossings surge, new Biden plan speeds up asylum approval and deportation
July 27, 2021
As the number of migrants stopped at the southern border surges to the highest level in two decades, the Biden administration has drafted a 21-point plan to weigh their asylum claims more quickly and deport those who do not qualify, according to a copy of the plan obtained by NBC News. In the plan, to be released Tuesday, the administration calls for asylum officers to have full authority to rule on asylum claims for migrants crossing the border, allowing asylum-seekers to bypass immigration courts, which now have a backlog of more than 1.2 million cases. The White House aims to send asylum cases that do go to court to a dedicated docket to be sure they are given priority, according to the document. Families seeking asylum would also have access to legal counsel, a goal dependent on Congress’ approval of a $15 million budget request for next year. Migrants who are determined to be unqualified, meanwhile, or who do not claim asylum will be deported more quickly.
Migrant children in U.S. tent camp faced depression and filthy conditions, whistleblowers say
July 28, 2021
Unaccompanied migrant children housed at a U.S. government tent camp inside the Fort Bliss Army base in Texas faced filthy conditions and lacked access to adequate mental health services, according to a whistleblower complaint submitted to Congress and government watchdogs on Wednesday. Two civil servants in the federal government who volunteered to work at the tent site said distraught migrant children, including some with suicidal thoughts, were referred to staff who were not qualified to assess their trauma and mental health needs. In some cases, children's requests to speak to a counselor were denied or dismissed, the federal volunteers said. Arthur Pearlstein, a director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and one of the whistleblowers, interviewed dozens of children held at Fort Bliss who had symptoms of depression, including concerns about self-harm.
Biden infrastructure deal could create 500,000 manufacturing jobs, business group finds
July 27, 2021
A bipartisan infrastructure deal being negotiated in the U.S. Senate could create roughly half a million new manufacturing jobs by 2024, the end of President Biden's first term, an analysis conducted on behalf of the trade group Association of Equipment Manufacturers found. The analysis by IHS Markit assumes the manufacturing jobs would come from $1.1 trillion spent over eight years starting in 2022, with 75% of funding to be spent in the first five years. It also assumes Congress will authorize an additional $303 billion in transportation spending over five years. The jobs estimate comes as businesses place growing pressure on Congress to pass an infrastructure package after negotiations hit snags this week in the Senate. Yesterday, more than 140 major companies including the investment firm BlackRock and the tech giant Microsoft, urged Congressional leaders to pass legislation crafted by the White House.
$15 wage becoming a norm as employers struggle to fill jobs
July 27, 2021
The signs and banners are dotted along suburban commercial strips and hanging in shop windows and restaurants, evidence of a new desperation among America’s service-industry employers: “Now Hiring, $15 an hour.” It is hardly the official federal minimum wage — at $7.25, that level hasn’t been raised since 2009 — but for many lower-skilled workers, $15 an hour has increasingly become a reality. Businesses, particularly in the restaurant, retail and travel industries, have been offering a $15 wage to try to fill enough jobs to meet surging demand from consumers, millions of whom are now spending freely after a year in lockdown. And many of the unemployed, buoyed by stimulus checks and expanded jobless aid, feel able to hold out for higher pay. The change since the pandemic has been swift. For years, and notably in the 2020 presidential race, labor advocates had trumpeted $15 an hour as a wage that would finally allow low-paid workers to afford basic necessities and narrow inequality. It struck many as a long-term goal.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES & PRIVATIZATION
Biden says mandating vaccinations for all federal employees is 'under consideration'
July 27, 2021
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that requiring Covid vaccinations for all federal employees is "under consideration," a day after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that health care workers at the agency must get their shots. "That's under consideration right now, and if you're not vaccinated you're not nearly as smart as I thought you were," Biden said after delivering remarks to members of the intelligence community at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Asked if he thinks the new revised guidance on masks from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will lead to confusion for Americans, Biden cast blame on unvaccinated Americans, saying that if they had been vaccinated "we'd be in a very different world." "We have a pandemic because of the unvaccinated, and they're sowing enormous confusion. And the more we've learned about this virus and the Delta variant, the more we have to be worried and concerned. There's only one thing we know for sure: If those other (inaudible) people got vaccinated, we'd be in a very different world," he said.
Frito-Lay workers back on the job with one guaranteed day off a week
July 27, 2021
Hundreds of Frito-Lay employees are back on the job this week after ratifying a new union contract that guarantees them one day off a week. Roughly 600 of 850 workers walked picket lines for 20 days in Topeka, Kansas, before the snack maker and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union reached agreement on a revised labor accord, which was then approved by workers, both sides announced over the weekend. The first strike ever at the facility centered on workers seeking "a voice over how many hours in a week they can be forced to work," Anthony Shelton, the union's international president, said in a statement.
UNIONS OF WORKING PEOPLE
AFL-CIO Union Federation Supports Vaccine Mandates For Workers
July 27, 2021
With more states considering vaccine requirements for public employees, the president of the AFL-CIO was asked Tuesday whether the labor federation supports vaccine mandates in the workplace. “Yes, we do,” Richard Trumka said on C-SPAN, responding to a question from a viewer. “If you’re coming back into the workplace, you have to know what’s around you.” The remarks from Trumka come at a time when the COVID-19 delta variant is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated, prompting officials to weigh mandates for workers in order to boost vaccination rates and protect public health. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the city’s municipal workforce would have to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the same day that his state’s employees and health care workers would face a similar requirement. The mandates have drawn resistance as well as support from different unions that represent public employees and health care workers. A union representing New York City paramedics and EMTs, FDNY EMS Local 2507, declared its opposition to de Blasio’s mandate, saying that “the city and the mayor cannot simply disregard the civil liberties of the workforce.” The union said any such requirement should be subject to bargaining.
Unions Split Over Vaccine Mandates as Variant Threatens Workers
Ian Kullgren and Robert Iafolla
July 28, 2021
After working together for more than a year to promote worker safety during the pandemic, organized labor leaders increasingly are divided over vaccine mandates aimed at stopping a new and potentially more deadly coronavirus strain from ravaging the U.S. workforce. The rift was evident as the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, said Tuesday it fully supports mandatory vaccines to safeguard the economic recovery—openly contradicting one of its largest members, the American Federation of Teachers, which a day earlier had said it would oppose any plan that doesn’t leave the choice to workers and unions. The emerging divide came into focus as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new mask-wearing guidelines for vaccinated people in high-risk areas, and a coalition of nearly five dozen medical groups—representing workers in unionized health-care fields—called for mandatory shots in health-care settings to slow the Delta variant’s spread. The question of mandatory vaccines is vexing union leaders, who since the start of the pandemic have advocated for workplace safety measures but now must also be responsive to a minority of members who don’t want to get inoculated. They’re also worried about the broader implications of letting employers impose invasive medical requirements for workers without first engaging in formal bargaining. “There’s a larger principle that many unions are reacting to,” said Paul Clark, a labor and employment professor at Pennsylvania State University who has written about nurses’ unions. “The whole purpose of unions is to give workers some control and some voice about what happens in the workplace.”
WORKPLACE HEALTH & SAFETY
Workers aren't coming back because of low vaccination rates, not cushy unemployment benefits
July 27, 2021
The labor market has a big puzzle at its center: Millions of Americans are unemployed, so why are so many workers not returning to work — or just quitting their jobs altogether? More than half of the governors in America are blaming one thing: Enhanced unemployment benefits. "Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it's time to get back to work," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in her announcement that federal benefits, which includes $300 in weekly benefits and programs that expanded both eligibility and the duration of benefits, would end early in the state. Yet, people still haven't rushed back to work. That could be due to low vaccination rates, according to an analysis by economist Luke Pardue at payroll platform Gusto. That analysis found that workers over the age of 25 flocked back to work in states with higher vaccination rates; employment gains were led by states that had the most fully vaccinated adults. The six most vaccinated states in this group of 12— Alaska, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming — had an average of 34% of adults vaccinated when governors announced the end of $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits. Since April 2021, worker headcount across that group of six increased by 11%. Meanwhile, the story was different in less-vaccinated states — Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Nebraska, which had a cumulative average of 27% of adults vaccinated — prematurely cutting off benefits. Their headcounts grew by just 3% since April 11. Significantly, according to Gusto, the two groups of states had similar employment trends until the announcement that benefits would be revoked. Once that came, "nearly all of the growth after the announcement dates is driven by growth in higher-vaccinated states."
Activision Blizzard Employees Walked Out Over Discrimination And Harassment Allegations
July 28, 2021
Employees of Activision Blizzard staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest the company's response to a lawsuit alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination toward women. Workers planned to walk off the job — whether at home or at the company's campus in California — starting at 10 a.m. Pacific time. Four demands were distributed by organizers on social media: an end to mandatory arbitration clauses, better policies for hiring and promotions, public compensation data, and a third-party audit. In a statement of intent, organizers said, "We believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership." The protest comes after a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleged a "frat boy" culture that included sexual harassment of women, employment discrimination, and retaliation. After a two-year investigation, the department said a woman died by suicide after enduring harassment and that Black women in particular were mistreated. The lawsuit said women were passed over for promotions, unfairly delegated work by male colleagues, and scrutinized for taking maternity leave. The company previously told IGN that it cooperated with investigators. "We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue," an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told IGN. "The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past."
Workers at a repair facility used by Apple compare conditions to sweatshops
July 28, 2021
Workers at a Houston, Texas facility that processes repairs for Apple, Dell, and Lenovo reportedly say they are working in “sweatshop” conditions, according to a story from Insider. Workers’ toilets are reportedly unsanitary and insufficient, they say they lack air conditioning, and they claim their pay is low at CSAT Solutions, a company that acts as a repair partner for tech companies like Apple. In the report, which is worth reading in its entirety, employees also reportedly say there aren’t enough bathrooms or parking spots for the number of workers, and that they’re not allowed to use their phones while working, even in the case of family or personal emergencies. One employee told Insider that she got off work to discover that her son had been taken to the hospital after being burned. The working conditions alleged at CSAT took some employees by surprise, according to Insider, as they expected an environment reflective of the prestige that comes with the Apple brand. Instead, they reportedly faced quotas that were difficult to meet, and pay that ranged from $12 to $14 an hour, with little hope for raises or promotions. Some employees told Insider that they had to work 60 hours a week just to make ends meet.
Workers’ Anxiety Grows as Covid Variant Casts a Shadow
New York Times
July 28, 2021
Some companies have intensified their efforts to return to a pandemic before-time, easing safety protocols while expecting employees to return to previous routines. But for many workers, the perception is quite different: a sense of rising vulnerability and frustration even for the vaccinated, who find themselves inundated with stories of breakthrough infections and long Covid. The gulf between employers’ actions and workers’ concerns appears to foreshadow a period of rising tensions between the two, and unions appear to be positioning themselves for it. Some unions are calling on companies to do more to keep members safe, while others are questioning new vaccination requirements. The two positions may seem at odds, but they send a common message: Not so fast. “I think we’re rushing to return to normal,” said Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has over one million members in industries like groceries and meatpacking. Many workers complain about a mismatch between plans their employers appear to have made before the rise of the variant and the reality of the past few weeks.
Changing Mask Guidance Confuses Employers and Workers on Safety
July 28, 2021
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it is updating its guidance on indoor mask-wearing for vaccinated individuals along similar locational lines, based on virus infection rates. That agency’s action came after Los Angeles County became the first county in the nation to require people to wear masks in public again beginning July 17. New Orleans followed with an in-door mask advisory July 21, and on the same day Las Vegas’ Clark County Commission issued an emergency mandate for all indoor government workers to don masks. Some management-side attorneys say employers and workers have been confused over whether to impose mask rules and that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been slow to adopt changes. “Practitioners like me see it akin to sleeping next to an elephant, anytime it rustles it wakes you up,” said Courtney Malveaux, a workplace safety lawyer with Jackson Lewis P.C. in Richmond, Va. The federal OSHA’s masking recommendations also have evolved as infection rates rose and fell. While the agency never issued an emergency temporary standard with concrete workplace rules regarding the virus for all workers, it did for private health-care providers. OSHA also rolled out a National Emphasis Program in March targeting industries that posed the highest risk of mass infections, like the health-care, meatpacking, and warehousing industries. But earlier this month, the agency revamped that March NEP “due to the issuance of its emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 in healthcare” and refined its focus to programmed inspections in the health-care and other non-health-care industries, like meatpacking and restaurants. A search of OSHA’s Covid-19 complaint database shows that since the start of the pandemic, at least 4,754 workers have made complaints to the federal safety regulator about the lack of mask rules in the workplace. OSHA spokeswoman Denisha Braxton said the agency updated that program “to better align with the overall reduction of COVID-19-related risks in many industries and the CDC’s latest COVID-19 guidance.” “The agency also issued recommendations to assist employers in preparing their workplaces to minimize transmission of the virus and help make determinations about using masks and other controls,” she said in an email. OSHA is reviewing the CDC’s Tuesday guidance, Braxton added.