Workers providing essential services during the pandemic have complained to OSHA about the dangerous conditions they face, as Alexandra wrote Friday. But OSHA is leaving most of those workers out of workplace safety protections, ProPublica reports. In particular, OSHA is virtually ignoring non-medical workplaces. OSHA will not require non-medical employers to investigate whether COVID-19 cases among employees are work-related unless more than one person in the same vicinity gets sick. OSHA also will not formally pursue complaints from non-medical essential workers and will not “normally” inspect employers in response to such complaints. Instead, OSHA will write a letter to the employer asking for a response within five days explaining how the problem has been corrected. OSHA has also provided employers with workplace safety “tips.” At the start of this year, OSHA had only 862 federal inspectors, the lowest number in the agency’s history.
The Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a dramatic example of the dangers of lax workplace safety precautions. PBS reports that more than 600 workers at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Taneeza Islam, founder of the South Dakota Dream Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group working with Smithfield employees, said workers were provided no protective gear or hand sanitizer and that no social distancing was taking place on the lines until at least March 26. Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive vice president for corporate affairs and compliance, said Smithfield has taken precautions including adding hand sanitizing stations and installing plexiglass barriers, but that it is facing supply chain shortages when it comes to personal protective equipment. Smithfield is a major part of the pork supply chain for the entire United States. The Sioux Falls plant has stopped meat processing indefinitely after requests by the city’s mayor Paul TenHaken and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem.
The United States Postal Service is one of the largest employers of military veterans at over 100,000, approximately 60% of whom have disabilities. Business Insider reports that these veterans would face an uncertain future if the USPS were to succumb to its present financial difficulties. The USPS is expected to run out of funding in September after President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to include $13 billion of emergency USPS funding in the CARES Act stimulus legislation. Instead, the Treasury Department has made USPS a $10 billion loan. President Trump has been critical of the USPS’s business practices on Twitter, arguing that Amazon takes advantage of the agency. The USPS’s financial difficulties are due in part to a statutory requirement that the agency pre-fund its own cost of future health benefits to retirees, a requirement that applies to no other government agency or private corporation in the United States.
Maxwell wrote Thursday about the Trump administration’s efforts to cut pay and roll back protections for farm workers. Cal Matters says that even agricultural employers don’t necessarily favor these changes, worrying that the downside of disruption to the labor market may outweigh the savings. Chris Valadez, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, said cutting wages would “create more uncertainty in the mind of the employees,” although he favors “reevaluat[ing]” the farm worker wage system in the long term. Casey Creamer, president of the California Citrus Mutual, also does not favor cutting wages and emphasizes that the problem is a sudden drop in demand as growers leave lemons on trees. Many farm workers remit much of their earnings to their families outside the United States. Unions and farm worker advocates say decreasing pay would hit them hard during an already difficult time.
Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders, Mark Warner, Doug Jones, and Richard Blumenthal have proposed a bill to guarantee paychecks for workers who are furloughed or laid off, according to Vox. Under their proposal, the government would fund a portion of a company’s payroll costs up to $90,000 per worker who has been laid off or furloughed if a business can demonstrate that it has experienced a 20 percent month-over-month drop in revenue. The CARES Act stimulus legislation currently provides paycheck guarantees only to airline workers. Businesses would not be eligible if they currently had 18 months of average payroll on hand in cash or if they were already receiving funding from the Payroll Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. The proposal imitates programs that have been adopted in European countries including Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Forty-five New York City members of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ have died of COVID-19, the New York Post recounts. They include janitors, door attendants, building superintendents, and porters. Many of these workers were provided with little or no personal protective equipment. SEIU 32BJ President Kyle Bragg emphasized that these workers “put their health and well-being on the line every day to keep NYC safe, secure, and healthy,” only to face unsafe conditions and layoffs. Bragg called on Congress to pass economic relief for low-wage workers including layoff protections.