Today’s News & Commentary — March 10, 2020
New York has started manufacturing its own hand sanitizer in an effort to save costs amid widespread shortages and price gouging as fears over a coronavirus outbreak spread. It will produce 100,000 gallons per week and distribute it to state run agencies and schools. How has New York managed to produce the hand sanitizer so cheaply? By using prison labor. A few years ago, reporting found that the incarcerated workers made $0.65 per hour. The Legal Aid Society railed against the decision, calling it “nothing less than slave labor,” and noting that the inmates may not have access to the very hand sanitizer they produce because it’s considered contraband due to its alcoholic content.
As Ryan wrote about last week, while the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not currently have regulations to protect workers from airborne diseases, it could issue temporary standards to protect workers from coronavirus. Yesterday, the AFL-CIO asked its members to urge their congressional representative to advocate for OSHA to issue those standards. Richard Trumka, the President of the AFL-CIO, said that the coronavirus “outbreak is another tragic reminder that the United States is not prepared to adequately protect our health care workers and first responders from infectious disease.”
Coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the pond as well; very serious restrictions on movement in Italy were announced yesterday, for example. While there are more cases in Europe than the United States, the more generous European welfare states may help blunt the economic damage threatened by a potential outbreak, according to The New York Times. A variety of countries, including Germany, France, Denmark, and The Netherlands, mandate that workers can receive full pay when they have to stay home from work, something that is not guaranteed to all American employees, as Deanna wrote about recently. And French workers are allowed to strike over health and safety concerns without losing pay. Workers at The Louvre exercised this right last week, forcing a two day shutdown of the world’s most visited museum, only returning to work when management instituted new safety measures.
In uncontaminated news, the deadline for National Football League (NFL) players to vote to ratify a potential new collective bargaining agreement has been extended until Saturday night. The deal is particularly contentious due to a proposal that would add an additional game to the regular season. The ratification process has been fraught, with enough players apparently seeking to change their votes that the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) considered a resolution to allow them to do so, but it was voted down last night. Meanwhile Russell Okung, who is running to be the next president of the union, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NFLPA for negotiating the potential CBA in bad faith. The filing charges NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith of pushing the proposed CBA to the full bargaining unit for a ratification vote despite the objections of an executive committee of players.
Hundreds of thousands of women in Mexico went on strike, grinding the country to a halt, to protest widespread violence against women. Women skipped both paid work and uncompensated for domestic labor. Nélida Reyes Guzmán, a striking metro worker, urged continued action: “[t]he strike has given us the chance to challenge our labor conditions. The question is whether we’ll be able to keep up the social pressure.”
For The Baffler, Kim Kelly writes about her experience moderating a panel of gig workers who argue that they are misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees. Kelly highlighted the work of Yanelia Ramirez, a nail technician who has been working at the same salon for over a decade, has her hours and duties tightly controlled by her bosses, and is nonetheless classified as an independent contractor by the salon. For New York’s version of California’s AB5 to be successful, Kelly argues, lawmakers must hear directly from affected workers and their communities.