News & Commentary

March 25, 2020

Courtney Brunson

Courtney Brunson is a student at Harvard Law School and member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Following efforts led by Washington state’s grocery worker unions to get greater protections for workers in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Safeway/Albertsons and Fred Meyer/QFC have agreed to make hour and benefit related changes to worker contracts. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 21, 367, and 1439 and General Teamsters Union Local No. 38 representatives successfully negotiated for workers to receive more paid time off, flexible scheduling, and several other benefits. These changes have also expanded to UFCW members across the nation. Safeway and Kroger also announced that they would be providing hazard pay to its employees.

Full time employees of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils teams were informed on Monday evening that they would be receiving cuts to their hours and pay as a result of the virus. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns both of the teams, originally mandated that employees who make more than $50,000 would be subject to pay cuts of up to 20% and would be moving to a four-day work week. However, after reported pushback from staff and the players, the company owner reversed course and issued the following statement: “After listening to our staff and players, it’s clear that was the wrong decision. We have reversed it and will be paying these employees their full salaries. This is an extraordinary time in our world – unlike any most of us have ever lived through before – and ordinary business decisions are not enough to meet the moment. To our staff and fans, I apologize for getting this wrong.”

The House of Representatives has introduced another coronavirus bill, which allocates $2.5 trillion in economic stimulus to combat the impacts of COVID-19 on American citizens and the economy. Bloomberg Law reported on the details of a provision in the bill that mandates OSHA issue a rule that provides workers in occupations with elevated risk to the coronavirus with greater infection prevention protections. The draft version of the bill not only covers health-care providers but also includes firefighters and emergency responders. The Senate version of the bill does not include any such requirement, but does set aside $10 million for enforcement. In contrast, the House bill also allocates $30 million to OSHA for training, education, and enforcement related to the coronavirus pandemic through fiscal year 2021.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA), a labor union of television show, movie, news program, and other media related content writers, signed a franchise agreement with Paradigm Talent Agency, the fifth largest agency representing entertainment writers. The LA Times stated that the agreement included provisions in which Paradigm agreed to end its package fee collection practice and limit its investment in affiliated production. Both practices, the WGA contends, creates conflicts of interest and disadvantages writers. Though the other large talent agencies have not signed similar agreements, this effort is considered a significant move for the union as it aims to get talent agencies to change their industry practices.

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