Weekend News & Commentary— August 16, 2020

Deanna Krokos

Deanna Krokos is a student at Harvard Law School

This week, Reveal completed their investigative series “American Rehab” that follows and describes how thousands of individuals receive “work therapy” instead of addiction treatment after entering drug rehabilitation centers. The series documents how these individuals work for little or no pay, often over 60 hours per week and with little or no training. Reveal further exposes how these work-based rebabs “are turning participants into unpaid essential workers” during the Covid-19 pandemic. The series is comprised of hundreds of interviews with workers, families, and “employers” and explores the efficacy and legality of such programs.

California state officials are investigating workplace safety conditions at Foster Farms poultry plant in the San Joaquin Valley. Merced County health officials reported that 217 plant workers tested positive for Covid-19, “nearly triple the number reported July 31.” Two workers have died. This most recent outbreak follows months of reports describing meat processing plants with inadequate sanitation and social distancing policies, and the Trump Administration’s April executive order preventing state governments from shutting down plants. Earlier this month, Tyson Foods received permission to increase operating speed at their Midwest plants, despite the risk that workers would have to work closer together and face further exposure to Covid-19.

Last week, Courtney reported on the high-level female executive suing Pinterest for rampant gender-based discrimination and retaliation and the earlier allegations by Black female employees describing significant racial bias. This week, more than 400 Pinterest employees participated in a virtual protest, signing out of the company’s computer system to simulate a “walk-out” despite working remotely. Using, the employees called for significant policy changes at the company, including full transparency and disclosure of promotion and retention metrics to improve equity. Pinterest promised that no employee would face retaliation for the protest, and delayed the announcement of a new board member.

Federal agencies like the EPA and IRS may face significant worker shortages if they proceed with re-opening plans. Several federal employees and National Treasury Employees Union members told Bloomberg News that they plan to retire early if federal agencies require workers to return to in-person work while Covid-19 cases continue to spike. Workers report that the risk of returning to the office or commuting via public transit outweighs their expected loss in retirement savings.

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