News & Commentary

December 23, 2020

Leigh Thomas

Leigh Thomas is a student at Harvard Law School.

Record numbers of holiday shoppers are doing their gift buying online this year. This is placing enormous stress on warehouse workers employed by online retailers like Amazon and Target, who report unsafe conditions as they pack into indoor warehouses and struggle to meet towering orders.

Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill yesterday to provide free testing for teachers, students, and other essential workers, CNBC reports. The Expanding COVID-19 Testing Capacity Act of 2020 would provide funding and a mandate to the Department of Health and Human Services to stabilize the testing supply chain. This would entail providing money to companies to ramp up manufacturing of tests and testing supplies like pipettes and swabs. The bill guarantees free testing to essential workers at the highest risk of COVID-19 and calls on state and local governments to identify potential testing sites and determine how often workers are tested. While testing has expanded across the country since the pandemic began, workers still face difficulties accessing tests and receiving results quickly–key to effectively stopping an outbreak.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries issued a more than $2 million fine against a farm company for repeat violations of Covid-19 safety guidelines. According to USA Today, the Department began investigating Gebbers Farm Operations after an employee reported that a worker had died of coronavirus and that the company was not testing the migrant workers who had lived with the deceased worker. Upon investigation, authorities confirmed the deaths of two migrant workers employed by Gebbers. The investigation resulted in citations for unsafe sleeping arrangements and unsafe worker transportation. The company apparently violated emergency rules requiring workers not be allowed to sleep in top and bottom bunks unless separated into group shelters. Hundreds of Gerbers workers were sleeping in top and bottom bunks with no separation into cohort groups. Farmworkers have experienced devastating rates of Covid-19 infection across the country.

Workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama are one step closer to securing a vote for unionization, The New York Times reports. Yesterday concluded three days of hearings before the National Labor Relations Board, in which Amazon and the union came to an agreement on the crucial issue of which types of workers at the facility will be allowed to vote. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union is seeking to represent workers at the fulfillment center. The vote, expected to take place early next year, could cover roughly 5,800 employees, a group that includes both full-time and seasonal employees. The inclusion of seasonal workers means that the union will need to garner more votes to win a majority. Amazon and the union have yet to agree on whether voting will take place by mail or in person.

Kim Kelly writes in Teen Vogue about what the labor movement wants from Joe Biden. Kelly opens by recognizing the significant role union members played in Biden’s election campaign, as well as Biden’s reliance on pro-union messaging. While optimistic about Biden’s pro-worker stance, the piece strikes a note of caution by highlighting some worrisome signals from the transition: the inclusion of several tech company executives in the transition team, and rumors about appointing Vice President-elect Harris’ brother-in-law, currently chief legal officer at Uber, to the post of Attorney General. Kelly’s suggestions for how the Biden Administration can “put its money where its messaging was” include delivering a stimulus package and other economic relief for low-income workers, directing OSHA to kick into gear and issue enforceable emergency Covid-19 health and safety standards, expanding eligibility for time-and-a-half overtime pay, and addressing head-on the issue of worker misclassification facing independent contractors.

Today will be the last News & Commentary post for 2020. We will return again after the New Year.

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