News & Commentary

June 3, 2020

Courtney Brunson

Courtney Brunson is a student at Harvard Law School and member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Following up on Commentator Maxwell Ulin’s post about union support of the protests regarding George Floyd’s murder and police brutality around the country, The Chicago Crusader has reported that members of the Chicago Federation of Labor leadership have released statements about the protests taking place in the city. Bob Simpson, the President of the Chicago Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, said the following:

“Far too many Black Americans have been murdered without any change in our society. It is the responsibility of the labor movement to bring people together and lead the fight against racism in all its forms. I call on our sisters and brothers in labor to lead the way, and demonstrate how to peacefully advocate for real, lasting change.”

With more than 40 million unemployment cases being filed since March throughout the U.S., Bloomberg Law is reporting that states have struggled to prevent fraud while ensuring that the claimants get their payments in a timely manner. State agencies have put additional steps in place to flag potentially fraudulent or improper applicants but they can often be over inclusive. As a result, eligible filers are often prevented from receiving funding since they are unable to reach often understaffed and overburdened state offices. Despite state governments’ efforts to overcome their staffing and technology limitations, The Century Foundation analyzed the Department of Labor’s data and found that only 47% of workers seeking benefits for April have been paid.

Lawsuits regarding company treatment of workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic have begun, including one against Barrier Technologies LLC, a Florida-based manufacturer of personal protective agreement (PPE), in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  According to the filer, Tracey Graham, the company fired and refused to pay her when she fell ill with coronavirus symptoms, which her attorney argues is unlawful under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Since the law has given employees at companies with more than 50 and less than 500 workers the ability to bring coronavirus-related leave cases in court, some employment law attorneys have predicted this could lead to future litigation.

The lack of mandatory requirements from the federal government have led to meatpacking  workers contracting the virus. Following President Trump’s issuing of an executive order to use the Defense Production Act and force companies to reopen their meatpacking plants, at least 44 meatpacking workers have died from the virus and 3,000 have tested positive from it, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union. An Agriculture Department representative said that the agency has provided meatpacking workers with millions of face masks. However, as safety measures continue to vary from individual plant, employee health and safety continues to be at risk.

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