News & Commentary

June 22, 2020

Mackenzie Bouverat

Mackenzie Bouverat is a student at Harvard Law School.

As the country celebratesimprovedrates of employment, many states restrict unemployment benefit eligibility. The Virginia Employment Commission has suspended the employment benefits of over 12,000 claimants who refuse to return to work as restrictions on business are lifted across the state; unless such claimants are able to prove extenuating circumstances justifying their work refusal, they will be judged ineligible for benefits. Following many other states, the commission’s website invites employers to report employees who refuse to return to work. Ohio has also announced its plan to deny unemployment benefits for claimants refusing to return to work, but fail to meet enumerated criteria, including: exposure to the coronavirus, proving that their employer has failed to follow coronavirus safety protocols, being older than sixty-five, or caring for an infected family member. New Jersey also issued guidance which indicates that those refusing to work will no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits. Texas and Missouri now require claimants to prove that they are actively searching for work by July 6th and July 4th, respectively.

As various groups coalesce in protest of forced prison labor, the University of Florida has committed to stop ’employing’ imprisoned people in its agricultural operations; the University of Colorado has announced its plan to ‘reconsider’ its practice of purchasing furniture made by inmates; and Los Angeles Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez has introduced a motion to prohibit the city of from purchasing goods manufactured by prison labor. But these small concessions are overshadowed by Louisiana’s turn to prisoners to replace striking or sick workers throughout the coronavirus crisis: striking New Orleans sanitation workers were replaced by prisoners in late May; meatpacking plants with high absenteeism have also turned to local prison populations to staff their operations.

In order to ‘protect jobs for American citizens,’ Trump has announced impending new restrictions on H-1B, L-1, H-2B, J-1 visas, and OPT authorization, to be formally announced on either June 21 or June 22. The order does not apply to the H-2A program, which allows U.S. companies to hire temporary agricultural workers from outside of the country. When asked, Trump indicated that there would be few exceptions to the restrictions: “You need them for big businesses where they have certain people that have been coming in for a long time, but very little exclusion and they’re pretty tight,” he said. “And we may even go very tight for a period of time.” The restrictions are expected to last, at a minimum, until the end of the calendar year. Those who are already employed in the US under various work visas will be unaffected.

According to the Wall Street Journal, women are likelier than men to have lost jobs as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. The journal attributes the disparity to the fact that service-sector jobs are disproportionately occupied by women–and the service industry has “suffered the brunt of losses” during the economic crisis. But these unemployed women are not left idle; per The Guardian, millions of women have–as a result of the pandemic–taken on unpaid care work for older, disabled or seriously ill relatives.

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