News & Commentary

July 6, 2020

Zachary Boullt

Zachary Boullt is a student at Harvard Law School.

Employers that have prevented employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks have been facing protest and criticism. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Taco Bell, Starbucks, and others have faced boycotts for disciplining employees wearing the masks or other Black Lives Matter clothing or for enforcing dress code policies preventing such clothing. A Costco employee in Chicago was told to stop wearing a Black Lives Matter mask despite the employee handbook simply saying that employees must be “neat, clean, and professional.” Taco Bell and Starbucks reversed their policies after facing public criticism, with Taco Bell allowing the masks and Starbucks mass-producing Black Lives Matter t-shirts for employees. Whole Foods has faced protests in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as other states, for their restrictions toward Black Lives Matter masks and attire despite their public statements of support for the movement.

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Texas continue to climb and worsen, the state’s unemployment provisions extending benefits for high unemployment rates have triggered. The extra seven weeks triggered now add up to a potential total of 59 weeks of additional benefits. The extra benefits were triggered by the state’s unemployment rate of 13% in May. However, if the unemployment rate were to fall again, then these extra benefits would disappear.

As the July 31 end date for the enhanced additional $600 federal unemployment benefits draws closer, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia has publicly stated that he believes the benefits are no longer needed. He compared the size of the payment to the $25 per week payment made during the Great Recession. Legislation extending the benefits has been rejected by Republicans in the Senate.

Many employers have begun citing high costs, logistics, and employee privacy concerns as to why they are not actively testing employees for coronavirus as part of their reopening plans. Diagnostic tests start at around $100 each. Disney is an example of a company that has opted for distancing and face coverings over employee testing, but the Disney parks’ live actors have protested and demanded screenings before returning to work. Many nursing homes have mandatory testing requirements, but they are struggling with the rising testing bill. Uncertainties around the antibody tests and what type of immunity antibodies grant has removed rampant antibody testing as a possible solution, as the EEOC has issued a statement that employers cannot require antibody tests. Some employers are stating that mass employee testing has limited usefulness due to the results only being good for that single moment in time, while others are stating that the testing feels like an invasion of medical privacy, with a Suffolk Construction executive comparing the employer-mandated tests to “Big Brother.”

Though summer travel has slowly increased the number of airline flights, many airline jobs are still in danger. While airlines that have taken federal payroll support under the CARES Act cannot do involuntary layoffs and furloughs until after September 30, that deadline is quickly approaching. Meanwhile, carrier plans and investment firm data shows that many fleets are going to be retired, which will jeopardize jobs. However, no U.S. airlines are close to bankruptcy or running low on cash. Unions are demanding that Congress extend the payroll support until March 2021 to prevent mass layoffs in October. The Allied Pilots Association wants the government to buy empty airline seats to ensure social distancing.

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