News & Commentary

February 27, 2022

Nikita Rumsey

Nikita Rumsey is a student at Harvard Law School.

The CDC issued a new set of recommendations for Covid-19 mask-wearing that suggest around 70% of Americans may stop wearing masks, according to the New York Times. The CDC’s recommendations no longer rely only on the number of cases in a community to determine the necessary threshold for restrictions like mask-wearing and social distancing. Instead, the CDC introduced a three-tiered system for classifying local Covid-19 risk as low, medium or high based on an assessment of new Covid-related hospital admissions, the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, as well as new Covid cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. According to the CDC’s guidelines, only areas of high risk should then require everyone to wear a mask in indoor public places. In medium-risk areas where the virus is still currently burdening the health-care system, the CDC recommends that people at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19 should consult their doctor about masking. Under the new guidelines, less than a third of the population live in high-risk areas where masks should still be required in indoor public spaces. Notably, the CDC’s relaxed guidelines apply to schools, whereas previous guidance had recommended masks for schools regardless of community risk level. As Bloomberg reported, in response to the CDC’s announcement, NEA president Becky Pringle said that school districts should act cautiously, with the health and safety of students, educators and their families always in mind.

Meanwhile, the National Employment Law Project sent an open letter to members of the Washington State Senate urging them to reject proposed bill HB 2076, which would codify ride-hail workers’ status as independent contractors rather than employees in exchange for limited benefits in the form of sick pay, a process to appeal deactivations, protection against retaliation, and workers’ compensation. The bill is apparently the result of a deal struck by the Teamsters with Uber and Lyft. According to Labor Notes reporting, at least part of the rationale for the support of the Teamsters and its affiliated Drivers Union is the threat of a ballot initiative like California’s Prop 22. The bill has already passed the Washington House of Representatives, while it is scheduled for session in the Committee on Transportation in the Senate on February 28.

As to the NELP letter and the bill’s specifics, NELP notes that HB 2076 would classify ride-hail drivers as non-employees for purposes of minimum wage and overtime, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, long term care, and unemployment insurance, in exchange for limited benefits in the form of a minimum pay standard and paid sick leave, as well as workers’ compensation access. In its letter, NELP notes that the bill would provide that those limited benefits accrue only on the basis of “passenger platform time,” i.e. when a passenger is physically inside the driver’s vehicle, and thus would ignore a substantial amount of such workers’ time on the job and potentially leave up to half of drivers’ working time uncompensated. Additionally, NELP notes that the bill would preempt municipalities from improving standards for ride-hail drivers in the future, costing workers a critical advocacy target to meet the problems workers face as new industry challenges arise. Moreover, NELP’s letter argues that HB 2076 sets a dangerous precedent by legitimizing attempts by app-based companies to change laws to avoid complying with baseline labor and employment rights and protections. Presciently, the letter notes that “app-based companies’ misclassification of their workers is the latest iteration of a long-running trend of mislabeling workers in underpaid, insecure and unsafe jobs where people of color are doing a disproportionate share of the work—jobs like janitorial services, delivery, trucking, and home care—as independent contractors in order to depress wages and working conditions and maximize corporate profits.”

Additionally, Bloomberg reported that a union organizer and two workers were arrested earlier this week outside an Amazon warehouse in New York. Christian Smalls, president of the fledgling Amazon Labor Union, was charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, according to NYPD. After being released Wednesday evening, Smalls tweeted, “I’m free !! and I’m not stopping.” Earlier this month, the union and Amazon had reached an agreement to hold a union election at the JFK8 fulfillment center, which is set to take place from March 25-30. According to another union VP, Smalls had driven into the parking lot to deliver food and union literature for employees to share with co-workers, and that Amazon had called the police as a scare tactic to intimidate employees in the lead-up to the election. Additionally, an ALU attorney suggested that in calling in the police, Amazon had violated the terms of a settlement agreement with the NLRB restricting anti-union tactics.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.