Category Archives: Pandemics & Infectious Diseases

COVID-Related Labor Arbitration Awards in the United States and Canada: A Survey and Comparative Analysis

Source: Richard A. Bales, Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2021

From the abstract:
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21 has changed working conditions for millions of Americans and Canadians quickly and dramatically. Employers responded by requiring employees to quarantine, implementing workplace COVID policies, disciplining employees who violated those policies, changing work schedules, cancelling leaves or vacations, and furloughing or laying off employees. Unions have challenged many of these actions, raising a variety of novel issues that are now being resolved through labor arbitration. This article surveys those labor arbitration awards and then comparatively analyzes the awards from Canada and the United States.

A rapid scoping review of COVID-19 and vulnerable workers: Intersecting occupational and public health issues

Source: Daniel Côté, Steve Durant, Ellen MacEachen, Shannon Majowicz, Samantha Meyer, Ai-Thuy Huynh MSc, Marie Laberge, Jessica Dubé, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Volume 64, Issue 7, July 2021
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Background
This article reports the results of a rapid scoping review of the literature on COVID-19 transmission risk to workers in essential sectors such as retail, health care, manufacturing, and agriculture, and more particularly the experiences of workers in precarious employment and social situations.

Methods
Following scoping review methods, we included 30 studies that varied in terms of methodology and theoretical approaches. The search included peer-reviewed articles and grey literature published between March and September 2020.

Results
Based on the studies reviewed, we found that COVID-19 infection and death rates increased not only with age and comorbidities, but also with discrimination and structural inequities based on racism and sexism. Racial and ethnic minority workers, including migrant workers, are concentrated in high-risk occupations and this concentration is correlated to lower socioeconomic conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic appears in the occupational health and safety spotlight as an exacerbator of already existing socioeconomic inequalities and social inequalities in health, especially in light of the intersection of issues related to racism, ethnic minority status, and sexism.

Conclusions
This review provides early evidence about the limitations of institutions’ responses to the pandemic, and their capacity to provide a safe and decent working environment for all workers, regardless of their employment status or the social protections they may enjoy under normal circumstances. It is also important to think about these issues in the postpandemic context, when conditions of precariousness and vulnerability persist and possibly worsen.

Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response

Source: Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs, Clean Slate for Worker Power, July 2021

From the summary:
Our country is wracked by two urgent crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and the plague of systemic racism.

COVID-19 presents grave challenges to all of us, but it poses particular – and, in many cases, life-threatening – challenges to working people. Moreover, the costs of the pandemic are being borne disproportionately by low-wage workers, a population made up primarily of women and workers of color. As they work to keep the economy moving despite the pandemic, these workers are being asked to put their lives on the line in ways that are both unacceptable and unnecessary.

Indeed, as the economy reopens, more and more workers will be put in harm’s way. Unless, that is, something fundamental changes about the way we approach worker voice and power.

In this issue brief, we offer a set of recommendations designed to empower workers so that they are better positioned to cope with the ravages of COVID-19, keep themselves and their families safe, and build a more equitable economy than the one the pandemic shut down.

There is strong bipartisan support for the recommendations we are suggesting. A large majority of likely voters support giving workers a formal voice in setting health and safety standards. Only 19% of likely voters said they opposed these reforms. View the full polling results here.

As with the original Clean Slate report, the recommendations here are designed so that they apply to all workers regardless of whether the law classifies them as employees, independent contractors, or otherwise outside of traditional labor law’s protection. And a central premise of the Clean Slate for Worker Power project is that any attempt to empower workers must begin with the effort to make labor law, and the labor movement, fully inclusive of workers of color – workers who have faced exclusion from the start.

When law empowers all workers to demand equitable treatment – including safe and healthy working conditions – workers can build the kind of nation we all deserve.

Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education, launched the Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse (the Clearinghouse) in accordance with Executive Order 14000 Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers. The Clearinghouse is designed to support young children, students, families, early childhood providers, teachers, faculty, and staff as early childhood education programs, schools, and campuses continue to reopen following closures due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The Clearinghouse will be a place to share and highlight best practices and lessons learned for operating safely during and after the pandemic submitted by early childhood providers, teachers, faculty, staff, early childhood programs, schools, districts, institutions of higher education, other places providing educational instruction and States.

With the majority of corrections officers declining the COVID-19 vaccine, incarcerated people are still at serious risk

Source: Wanda Bertram and Wendy Sawyer, Prison Policy Initiative, April 22, 2021

Correctional staff in most states have been eligible for COVID-19 vaccination for months, prioritized ahead of many other groups because of the key role staff play in introducing the virus into prisons and jails and then bringing it back out to surrounding communities. Against the recommendations of medical experts, many states chose to vaccinate correctional staff before incarcerated people, often claiming that staff would serve as a barrier against the virus entering prisons and infecting people who are locked up. Now it’s becoming clearer than ever that this policy choice was a gigantic mistake: New data suggests that most prison staff have refused to be vaccinated, leaving vast numbers of incarcerated people- who have been denied the choice to protect themselves – at unnecessary risk.

We compiled data from the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, The Marshall Project/AP, and other sources, and calculated the current rate of staff immunizations in 36 states and the Bureau of Prisons. We found that across these jurisdictions, the median vaccination rate — i.e. the percentage of staff who had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose — was only 48%. The numbers are even more disturbing in states like Michigan and Alabama, where just over 10% of staff have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

New York’s Nursing Homes Were on the Brink. Then Covid Hit. Covid was a nightmare — but it was a nightmare years in the making, workers say.

Source: Bridget Read, The Cut, April 2021

….But the blame for what happened in New York’s nursing homes extends far beyond the Cuomo administration. It is a huge crisis of neglect, decades in the making. Care workers who survived the pandemic say that the virus exposed preexisting gaps in funding and attention, compounding deficiencies that created the conditions for absolute disaster. Horrifying images of nurses dressed in black trash bags begging for PPE were shocking, but they were not a surprise to workers.

Though nursing homes are funded by billions of government dollars from Medicare and Medicaid, a majority in the United States are now owned by for-profit companies — in New York, it’s 60 percent of facilities. They’ve become cash cows for executives and owners, snapped up at alarming rates by huge conglomerates or private-equity firms. For staff and residents, the consequences have been dire. For-profit homes statistically have leaner staffing, bad food, substandard conditions, and higher chances of abuse, though they are intended to service residents that need intensive levels of care. Some patients are in relatively good health, but others require help with almost every aspect of life. Many have little or no family visiting them, which can lead to behavioral issues. Residents with dementia can be a danger to themselves. These are the people living in New York’s for-profit facilities, one in four of which have the state’s lowest-star-quality ratings….

A policy manifesto for paying, protecting, and empowering essential workers

Source: Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program, March 18, 2021

….Powell and his fellow frontline employees at the hospital are strenuously working to do jobs like cleaning, taking vital signs, and spending time with patients—but without the decent pay and respect that nurses and doctors earn. “These are people who work very, very, very hard, and who make very, very, very little,” he said.

With the country on track for mass vaccinations in the coming months, the worst of the pandemic may be over. But the risks facing frontline essential workers like Powell have not ended. Many of the underlining inequities they face—including low wages, structural racism, and inadequate protections—remain.

It is long past time that we treat essential workers as truly essential. Lawmakers in Washington and around the country have the opportunity to turn their policy rhetoric into real change. The recommendations in this report lay out how federal, state, and local policymakers can—finally—give essential workers what they have always deserved: the dignity of a living wage, lifesaving protections, and power in their workplaces…..

Pandemics and Automation: Will the Lost Jobs Come Back?

Source: Tahsin Saadi-Sedik, Jiae Yoo, International Monetary Fund (IMF), IMF Working Paper No. 2021/011, January 1, 2021

From the abstract:
COVID-19 has exacerbated concerns about the rise of the robots and other automation technologies. This paper analyzes empirically the impact of past major pandemics on robot adoption and inequality. First, we find that pandemic events accelerate robot adoption, especially when the health impact is severe and is associated with a significant economic downturn. Second, while robots may raise productivity, they could also increase inequality by displacing low-skilled workers. We find that following a pandemic, the increase in inequality over the medium term is larger for economies with higher robot density and where new robot adoption has increased more. Our results suggest that the concerns about the rise of the robots amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem justified.

Inside a Long, Messy Year of Reopening Schools

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, New Republic, March 8, 2021

Teachers unions were accused of being obstinate and compromising education. The real story is a lot more complex.

Last month in Chicago, after months of heated negotiations, the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools emerged with one of the most detailed school reopening agreements in the nation. Brad Marianno, an education policy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has been studying these agreements since last spring, called it the most comprehensive he’s seen, citing its inclusion of things like testing protocols, measures that might lead to reclosing schools, and vaccination commitments. Among other things, the union succeeded in negotiating accommodations for hundreds more members at higher risk of Covid-19 complications, or who serve as the primary caregiver for someone at higher risk, than the district had originally agreed to accommodate.

Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said one of the most important components of the agreement was the so-called “school safety committees” a demand the union put forward in December to hold leadership accountable to the health and safety promises it’s made. The school-based committees include up to four CTU members, the principal, the building engineer, and a “reasonable” number of other employees like janitors, lunchroom staff, and security guards. On a regular basis, they will flag to the principal any issues that arise and can hold the school liable if they go ignored. ….

COVID‐19 as an occupational disease

Source: Christopher Carlsten, Mridu Gulati, Stella Hines, Cecile Rose, Kenneth Scott, Susan M. Tarlo, Kjell Torén, Akshay Sood, Rafael E. de la Hoz, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, First published: January 24, 2021

From the abstract:
The impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 permeates all aspects of society worldwide. Initial medical reports and media coverage have increased awareness of the risk imposed on healthcare workers in particular, during this pandemic. However, the health implications of COVID‐19 for the global workforce are multifaceted and complex, warranting careful reflection and consideration to mitigate the adverse effects on workers worldwide. Accordingly, our review offers a framework for considering this topic, highlighting key issues, with the aim to prompt and inform action, including research, to minimize the occupational hazards imposed by this ongoing challenge. We address respiratory disease as a primary concern, while recognizing the multisystem spectrum of COVID‐19‐related disease and how clinical aspects are interwoven with broader socioeconomic forces.