Senate Democrats voted yesterday to proceed with a Covid relief package without Republicans. After Biden promised that $2k checks would “go out the door” if Democrats won Georgia, stimulus checks and broader Covid relief have been delayed and decreased, as Mackenzie noted yesterday. Since taking office Biden had expressed openness to negotiating with Republicans on the relief bill but apparently balked at the $618 Republican proposal which contained no state and local funding and only $1k relief checks to people making less than $50k per year. Even though Democrats voted to pass their own bill through the budget reconciliation process it is estimated that they will take a month to hammer out the text and actually pass the desperately-needed relief.

After furious organizing efforts, including from the NYC Restaurant Organizing Project, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to make restaurant workers eligible for the vaccine ahead of his plan to open indoor dining in time for Valentine’s Day. Governor Cuomo’s decision to open indoor dining for Valentine’s Day, when the per-capita case count in New York City is 64% higher than it was when he banned indoor dining in December, left restaurant workers and their families scrambling. A recent study from UCSF found that line cooks are at the highest risk of dying from Covid, and restaurant and agricultural workers were twice as likely as other adults to die of Covid. Extending vaccine eligibility to restaurant workers is a necessary bare-minimum measure.

Reports of racially unequal access to vaccines continue to be reported. In Philadelphia for example, so far only 12% of vaccinated people are Black, but 44% of the Philly population is Black. Yesterday the New York Times reported that clinics in communities of color have been “flooded” by white people from other, wealthier communities. Black and Latinx people are contracting and dying from Covid at higher rates than white people and face more practical obstacles to getting vaccinated, like transportation and ability to take time during the day to get a vaccine. 

Kroger announced it would close two of its stores in Long Beach, California in response to the city increasing the pay of some grocery store workers by $4 an hour. The city passed the “hero pay” ordinance for grocery stores that employ at least 300 employees nationwide or more than 15 workers per market.  Andrea Zinder, president of the UFCW Local 324 which represents 22,000 workers including grocery store employees, described Kroger’s actions as “a clear attempt to intimidate and discourage workers from standing up and using their voice to create better working conditions and wages.” Kroger announced that due to the ordinance it was closing “long-struggling” store locations and noted that it had already instituted a $2 pay increase at the start of the pandemic. Kroger announced in September, 2020 that its second-quarter profit of $894 million was up 43% compared to last year.

On Monday, Washington D.C. asked a judge for a restraining order to prevent the Washington Teachers’ Union from striking to prevent the reopening of schools. Yesterday, the Washington Teachers’ Union, representing over 5,000 teachers, said that teachers want to go back to in-school learning but only “when they are assured that the buildings are safe.” The WUT said that the school district refused to work with teachers to ensure a safe reopening and that it would not rule out a strike as a way to ensure the health and safety of their communities.

Longtime “legendary” AFL-CIO and SEIU President John Sweeney passed away on February 1st, 2021. Sweeney served as president of the SEIU from 1980 until 1995, during which time the SEIU’s membership nearly doubled and oversaw the historic Justice for Janitors campaign. As President of the AFL-CIO, Sweeney is credited with transforming the nation’s largest union into a politically potent organization, especially on issues of civil rights and environmental justice. 

On Monday, Google reached a settlement with the Department of Labor to pay out $3.8 million to over 5,500 current employees and former job applicants over gender and racial discrimination. The DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program found pay disparities against women and hiring discrimination against women and Asian candidates.