News & Commentary

March 22, 2020

Jacob Denz

Jacob Denz is a student at Harvard Law School

Labor unions representing state government workers are cooperating with their employers’ COVID-19 emergency orders but wary of permanent changes to collective bargaining arrangements, according to The Intercept. In Minnesota, Democratic Governor Tim Walz issued an order Tuesday extending paid leave to all state employees but also authorizing agency heads to waive parts of collective bargaining agreements. In California, some public employers have been asking Governor Newsom to adopt a similar authorization. Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein notes that any moves to permanently weaken state unions would be reminiscent of denial of collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration workers in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks under President George W. Bush.

The United Kingdom will pay up to 80% of workers’ wages during the COVID-19 crisis, The Hill reported Friday. The proposal allows workers to apply for up to £2,500 per month in lost wages backdated through March 1. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that there would be no upper limit on the total amount that could be paid out under the plan. Sunak also announced deferment of the quarterly Value Added Tax to give U.K. businesses additional leeway to deal with the crisis.

Unions are mobilizing against the Republican Senate’s $1.3 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill because it lacks conditions to ensure that federal funds benefit workers, Bloomberg Law recounted Friday. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations President Richard Trumka called the proposal “an utter disgrace” and promised that unions will oppose it “with everything we have.” Union leaders have emphasized the need for any stimulus bill to include conditions for corporate recipients of federal funds such as no layoffs, no stock buybacks, and continuity in paychecks. Senator Elizabeth Warren released an eight-point plan highlighting these and other conditions.

Actors’ Equity has reached an agreement with the Broadway League over payment of actors and stage managers during the emergency shutdown of New York City theaters, Broadway News announced Saturday. Equity members will receive up to 150% of the Broadway minimum salary for the week of the closure and will receive the minimum salary for the following two weeks. These payments include pension and 401(k) contributions, while health insurance payments will continue until April 12. Equity also reached a separate agreement for touring groups reported by Broadway World.

Teen Vogue reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on nail and hair salon workers. Salons have been closed by executive order in states like New York, California, Ohio, and Minnesota, but many remain open in states where they are permitted to do so. It is not safe to go to a salon even if one remains open in your area because salon appointments are inconsistent with social distancing. Masks help only moderately because they quickly dampen and lose effectiveness. Nail salon workers overwhelmingly do not receive paid sick days and rely heavily on tips due in part to employers’ illegal failure to ensure they receive minimum wage. Instead of going to the salon, Teen Vogue suggests making a donation to your stylist or the One Fair Wage Emergency Fund as well as contacting local authorities if you suspect a salon in your area is violating workers’ rights.

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