News & Commentary

April 1, 2020

Leigh Thomas

Leigh Thomas is a student at Harvard Law School.

The newest coronavirus projections from the White House paint a grim picture: the best case scenario predicts 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities in the United States. This scenario requires continued extensive social distancing: without community mitigation, 1.5 million to 2.2 million Americans could die. As a result, the President has instructed continued social distancing for an additional 30 days.

Several major retailers announced significant furloughs of their workforce this week. Macy’s announced Monday that it planned to furlough the majority of its 125,000 workers, The New York Times reports. Gap also announced it would furlough nearly 80,000 store employees. Corporate employees are not immune from furloughs: Nordstrom announced last week it would be furloughing a portion of its corporate employees. Some furloughed workers are able to keep health benefits, and may be able to take advantage of benefits from the new federal stimulus bill.

Amazon’s dismissal of Chris Smalls, an organizer of a Monday walkout at a Staten Island Amazon Fulfillment Warehouse, has sparked responses from government officials. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city’s human rights commissioner to investigate Amazon. The New York Attorney General, Letitia James, has also announced her intent to investigate the dismissal, and has called on the National Labor Relations Board to do the same.

Meanwhile, applicants for Amazon’s 100,000 new jobs have reported that Amazon’s recruiting efforts over the past two weeks featured job fairs with crowded rooms and no special precautions for preventing the spread of coronavirus. One applicant described being told to leave if he was unhappy when he raised concerns about the crowded conditions, according to Bloomberg. Other companies are using different methods to rapidly hire workers to meet increased demand for essential supplies. Walmart, which is hiring 150,000 people, gives verbal offers by phone following online assessments.

A new paper by researchers at Northwestern University, University of Manheim, and University of California San Diego argues that the coronavirus outbreak will lead to higher job losses for women than in a normal recession, but that the long term impact of new flexible working arrangements may have a positive effect on gender equality. Higher job losses for women will occur because the industries primarily impacted by social distancing measures, including restaurants and the travel industry, have high female employment. On top of this, widespread school closures increases childcare demands at home, which primarily falls on women.

As Deborah and Courtney and Jon have reported, workplace safety continues to be a pressing concern during the coronavirus pandemic. For medical professionals, a widespread lack of personal protective equipment coupled with ever-changing guidance about mask usage has led to disagreements with hospital administrators over when personnel are permitted to wear masks. Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated yesterday that the White House Task Force would be discussing the idea of recommending broad use of masks—a change from previous recommendations and the World Health Organization’s continued position. Amid this confusion, doctors and other medical personnel with underlying conditions are protesting hospital policies that restrict mask usage to procedures and patient visits. Several physicians have reported being fired for insisting on wearing masks in hospital hallways or otherwise expressing concern with lack of protections for hospital workers.

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