News & Commentary

April 5, 2020

Jacob Denz

Jacob Denz is a student at Harvard Law School

Floridians are enraged about the state’s dysfunctional unemployment insurance system, Politico reports. The online system was introduced by Governor Rick Scott in 2013 with a specific goal of reducing benefits paid out, a result that would both lower unemployment taxes on businesses and allow the state to report lower unemployment numbers. The same system is now overwhelmed by the number of claim attempts and frequently crashes or denies claimants access. Florida’s unemployment benefits are among the lowest in the country with a maximum of $275 per week. Observers of Florida politics speculate that disaffection over the state’s economy and UI system could hurt President Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis, and other Republicans in Florida’s 2020 general elections.

Health care providers seeking to buy N95 masks for their workers are confronting extortionate prices and chaotic supply chains, according to The New York Times. In the absence of much federal government coordination of production and purchasing among states and health care providers, hospitals are receiving a high volume of offers from private entrepreneurs at inflated prices. Some are outright scams, some price-gouging, while others represent not-for-profit efforts to move needed supplies. The supply of N95 masks comes mostly from a small number of Chinese factories certified to make them by the FDA. Increased production has been insufficient to meet global demand, leading to much higher prices across the entire supply chain.

Maxwell noted Thursday that Amazon fired Staten Island-based warehouse worker Chris Smalls for organizing a protest demanding the company do more to protect its workers from the coronavirus. Vice News reports that a leaked memo reveals a broader company strategy to smear Smalls and by association the entire unionization campaign at Amazon. Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky recommended this focus because Smalls was “not smart, or articulate.” Zapolsky made the leaked comments at one of Amazon’s daily coronavirus response meetings at which CEO Jeff Bezos and other top leadership of the company were in attendance.

Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California warned Lyft and other gig economy companies that operate in the state that continued misclassification of drivers as independent contractors amounts to “really disregarding the rule of law,” Bloomberg reports. Lyft continues to misclassify its drivers in violation of Assembly Bill 5, a 2019 California law. Judge Chhabria made the remarks during a Thursday hearing in which Lyft drivers requested additional sick days under a different California statute. The hearing ended without a ruling on that request.

Transit historian and former New York City transit worker Marc Kagan ruminates in Slate about the death of essential workers due to complications from COVID-19. Eight New York City transit workers have died: Caridad Santiago, Peter Petrassi, Ernesto Hernandez, Warren Tucker, Patrick Patoir, Scott Elijah, Oliver Cyrus, and Victor Zapana. Kagan notes that the names of many other essential workers who die, such as grocery workers, warehouse workers, postal workers, and farm workers, will likely never appear on a similar list.

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