News & Commentary

April 7, 2020

Jon Levitan

Jon Levitan is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Workers continue to protest unsafe job sites amid the coronavirus pandemic. Delivery workers at Target-owned Shipt are organizing a walkout today. It’s the second major walkout against a gig-economy company in as many weeks, following the strike at Instacart. Shipt workers’ demands largely mirror those of the Instacart drivers: “$5 of hazard pay per order, 14 days of paid sick leave for all workers regardless of whether they’ve received a positive coronavirus test, personal protective gear for all gig workers,” and a clearer compensation model. Shipt has offered two weeks paid sick leave only to workers who have tested positive for coronavirus or have been ordered to quarantine by the CDC. And workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have staged their second walkout, this one coming after organizer Chris Smalls was fired last week. 25 workers have now tested positive for coronavirus at the warehouse, which remains open for business.

A story in The Washington Post details the stakes of these worker actions: major grocery stores are beginning to report that their workers are dying of coronavirus. One worker each died at a Trader Joe’s in Scarsdale, N.Y. and a Giant in Largo, Md., near Washington, and two workers from the same Walmart near Chicago died. Lailani Jordan, who died after working at the Giant, told her mother that she would continue working, “because no one else is going to help the senior citizens get their groceries.” She was 27.

Singapore, which has recently closed most non-essential businesses after a re-emergence of coronavirus, has locked down two massive dorms where migrant workers live in extremely close quarters. The dorms house over 20,000 migrant workers, mostly from South Asia, who compose much of the low-wage workforce in the wealthy city-state. Between 12 to 20 men share each room, and dozens of workers share bathrooms and eating areas. Shahadat Hossein, a 30 year-old construction worker from Bangladesh, told Rueters that workers were afraid of being confined to the dorms for two weeks. “It would be a total disaster if someone is infected in my room…[h]ow can we control the infection as we live in such a crowded place?”

The Supreme Court ruled for federal workers in an age discrimination case – holding that age need only be one factor, not the sole factor, for federal employees over 40 to obtain relief in a suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Workers over 40 employed in the private sector or by a state and local government must prove that age was the determinative factor – also known as “but-for” causation – to prevail under the ADEA. But in an 8-1 decision written by Justice Alito, the court held that more expansive statutory language applying to federal workers meant they need only to show that age was a contributing factor in an adverse employment decision in order to prevail. Still, a federal worker must show “but-for” causation to obtain certain kinds of relief, like reinstatement or back pay. Justice Thomas dissented, saying the ruling would make managing the federal workforce more cumbersome. 

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