News & Commentary

April 17, 2020

Alexandra Butler

Alexandra Butler is a student at Harvard Law School.

Across the nation, industries are struggling to maintain their payrolls, and media outlets are no exception. Having stifled once available advertisement funding, the pandemic has forced newspapers, magazines, radio stations and digital media groups to cut jobs and salaries. As a result, organizations and unions such as the NewsGuild labor union, have turned to the federal government for assistance. In a letter penned to Senate and House leaders, the NewsGuild explained the importance of local journalism and journalists during this global health crisis, outlining a plan in which federal funding could help save jobs in these communities  Their letter has not gone unheeded. Yesterday, House Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio introduced a relevant bill, part of which targets job loss in local news. According to the NewsGuild, the next step is “to make sure any funding would go to benefit workers – not hedge funds and private equity groups,” businesses that often purchase newspapers and then subsequently cut jobs.

The Washington Post’s recent FOIA request has reaffirmed the dangerous reality that some employees face in hospitals, grocery stores, airlines and other sectors across the nation. The 3,000 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints filed paint a grim and frightening picture of what it means to be on the frontlines of the pandemic. As employers fail to follow social distancing guidelines or to provide adequate sanitation or hygiene equipment and materials, the effects of having no federally-mandated, legally-binding health standards are clear, leaving employees at risk. This is especially true in hospitals, where mask shortages and limited mask access leave nurses unprotected when treating patients with COV-ID 19.

Washington State’s Department of Health and Labor & Industries is on the receiving end of a lawsuit due to insufficient health and safety standards for agriculture work. Filed by United Farm Workers and Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the complaint alleges that the state’s unenforceable and inadequate standards leave agricultural workers unprotected. For example, one of the housing guidelines failed to separate COV-ID 19 positive and healthy workers, opting instead to put them on opposite sides of the same room.

Nearby in California, however, Governor Gavin Newsom is taking steps to better protect workers in the food industry. His recent executive order mandates additional paid sick leave for workers in this sector. Enforceable through the state labor commission, the scheme obligates companies with 500 or more employees: full-time employees who have been exposed to or have tested positive for COV-ID 19 will receive an additional two weeks of paid sick leave, while similarly-situated part-time employees will receive time proportional to hours worked over two weeks. As The LA Times reports, Newsom’s decision follows the wave of new state and county policies that work to keep both employees and customers safe in grocery stores and other essential businesses.







Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.