Warren and Khanna’s “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” Cheered as Much-Needed Protections for Those on Frontlines of Crisis
April 13, 2020 by Common Dreams “If we can find the resources to bail out the cruise and airline industries and other big corporations, we can support the people who risk their lives every day to care for the ill, stock store shelves, and care for children.” by Andrea Germanos, staff writer
Caregivers and nurses from Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center protest changes to their sick leave benefits in Los Angeles on Feb. 11, 2020. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna’s proposal unveiled Monday for an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” is being cheered by leading progressive organizations who are demanding the next coronavirus relief package take care of those on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“It should be simple: the frontline workers who are risking their lives to keep Americans healthy and safe deserve to be protected as well. That’s what the Essential Workers Bill of Rights Act would ensure,” said Angel Padilla, national policy director of the Indivisible Project.
“But as we saw with first responders who risked their lives on 9/11, it took Congress a full decade before it provided them with the healthcare they desperately needed,” Padilla continued. “Congress shouldn’t make the same mistake twice.”
The new proposal for the group including healthcare workers, food service workers, domestic workers, janitorial staff, and farm workers comes as the U.S. remains the epicenter of the pandemic, with over 568,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21,000 deaths. President Donald Trump is under fire for his handling of the outbreak as his administration continues to threaten the safety of workers and public health of all Americans with its focus on “re-opening the economy.”
“This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible,” said Khanna, “and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.”
Indivisible—along with other groups rallying behind the new proposal including the American Federation of Teachers, MoveOn, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance—says the three legislative packages addressing the coronavirus crisis passed thus far have fallen far short on worker protections. Instead of making this essential group sacrificial lambs, federal lawmakers must ensure they have the protections they need.
And those protections stretch far beyond making sure the workers have PPE to include a broad range of progressive policies.
On social media, Warren and Khanna shared the policies included in their “bill of rights”:
“The next relief package must put all workers front and center—but it must also specifically include the policies in our Essential Workers Bill of Rights,” said Warren.
According to Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, it’s time for lawmakers to pass economic relief legislation that puts people, not big business, first.
“If we can find the resources to bail out the cruise and airline industries and other big corporations, we can support the people who risk their lives every day to care for the ill, stock store shelves, and care for children,” said Mitchell.
“Congress has a moral responsibility to pass the Workers Bill of Rights to ensure these workers have what they need to protect themselves and their families while they protect us all during this pandemic,” he said.Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
April 13, 2020 by Inequality.org
Jayapal Proposes Layoff Prevention Plan as the Fed Expands Corporate Aid With No Employment Strings
We could avoid a return to Great Depression-era unemployment rates if we follow European models and tie business assistance to preserving jobs. By Sarah Anderson
There is some hope of bipartisan potential for Jayapal’s plan. (Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The U.S. unemployment rate is already higher than at any time since the Great Depression in the 1930s. To lower that rate, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) has just introduced a bill that would pay crisis-hit companies to preserve jobs.
The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, is using a “blind faith” approach to layoff prevention. They’ve just announced a major increase in aid to large corporations with no requirements to maintain payrolls or limit executive pay.
Under Jayapal’s Paycheck Guarantee Act, companies that are either completely shut down or significantly harmed by the coronavirus crisis could receive federal support for 100 percent of wages for workers earning salaries up to $100,000. The proposal would provide this assistance for three months, with possible monthly extensions.
This would be a win-win for workers and employers. Workers would continue to receive their pay and employer-sponsored health benefits. Once the economic recovery kicks in, employers would avoid the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
Taxpayers are already paying for skyrocketing unemployment benefits, Jayapal notes. Under her plan, “Workers would not be forced to apply for unemployment insurance, overwhelm that system, and then have to once again find a job,” she explains.
Jayapal, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says she was motivated to introduce the bill by the holes in the recently enacted $2.2 trillion stimulus bill. The CARES Act does have some job retention incentives, including loans for small businesses that will be forgiven if the money is used to preserve jobs and wages and cash assistance for the airlines that prohibits layoffs.
But the small business program is running out of money, while the protections for airline workers expire at the end of September. And the single biggest tranche of assistance in the CARES Act, a $454 billion loan program for corporations and state and municipal governments, lacks strong enforcement of payroll retention provisions.
In the meantime, the Federal Reserve announced on April 9 a massive expansion of its corporate bond-buying program, which will include high-risk investments known as “junk bonds.” This assistance comes with no guarantee that funds be used to retain workers instead of lining executive pockets. Companies could even turn around and use the funds for stock buybacks or dividends to reward shareholders and inflate executive stock-based pay.
Another new Fed initiative, a “Main Street” lending program for mid-size firms too big to get small business loans and too small to access corporate debt markets, has only weak job retention conditions. The Fed states that companies receiving these loans must “commit to make reasonable efforts to maintain payroll and retain workers.” But according to the New York Times, the central bank “has yet to strictly define what that means or how it will be enforced.”
The Paycheck Guarantee Act is similar to programs several European countries have used effectively to keep a lid on their unemployment rate. According to Business Insider, at least 14 countries, including Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, are experimenting with some form of job retention support.
Germany became known for an innovative layoff prevention model after the 2008 crisis. Under their approach, known as “Kurzarbeit,” (literally, “short work”), the government covered two-thirds of labor costs, allowing companies to keep workers officially employed whether they were on the job or not. By the end of 2009, Germany’s unemployment rate was lower than it was in 2008. It took the United States four more years to achieve that benchmark.
There is some hope of bipartisan potential for Jayapal’s plan. In a Washington Post op-ed, Senator Josh Hawley proposed a similar approach, with federal funds covering 80 percent of wages.
“Because the government has taken the step of closing the economy to protect public health,” the Missouri Republican argues,”Congress should in turn protect every single job in this country for the duration of this crisis.”
Now let’s hope Hawley can persuade his Republican colleagues.
Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies, and is a co-editor of Inequality.org. @Anderson_IPS
April 13, 2020 by Common Dreams
Next Coronavirus Relief Package Must Include Moratorium on Utility Shutoffs, 830+ Justice Groups Say
“It’s unconscionable that Senate Republicans chose to protect corporate America over families in the last rescue package.”by Julia Conley, staff writer
More than 800 groups called on Congress to include relief from water and utility shutoffs in any new coronavirus relief package. (Photo: Peter Werkman/Flickr/cc)
With more than a quarter of Americans reporting lost income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, over 830 national justice groups are demanding Congress center working people’s needs in the next coronavirus relief package by ensuring support for people across the country struggling to pay their utility bills.
Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, 350.org, and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign signed a letter to congressional leaders, calling on lawmakers to implement a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs. Access to water, broadband, electricity, and other essential utilities in homes must be maintained during the coronavirus pandemic to support public health, the groups said.
“While we thank Congress for the CARES Act’s inclusion of important paycheck and eviction protection measures, the act unfortunately failed to include any moratorium on shut-offs of the basic utility services that families need to survive and protect themselves during this health pandemic,” the letter reads. “Utility services must be retained to ensure basic family survival and to fight the health pandemic at ground zero.”
The Center for Biological Diversity called on supporters to sign a petition demanding the moratorium.
The groups sent the letter after the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included $500 billion for large corporations but failed to include a moratorium on utility shutoffs, making low-income families vulnerable to losing water access and other necessities.
“It’s unconscionable that Senate Republicans chose to protect corporate America over families in the last rescue package,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. “Families are facing impossible choices between paying for food or electricity, water, or healthcare.”
Water shutoffs, the groups noted, could make it harder for families to fight the spread of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, as frequent hand-washing is one of the top recommendations for stopping transmission.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Twitter last week demanded to know how utility shutoffs were acceptable during a public health crisis.
“How the hell are you supposed to wash your hands during a pandemic when your water has been shut off?” Sanders asked.
“There is absolutely no excuse left for Congress to exclude basic human needs from the next coronavirus stimulus package, or in general,” said Rianna Eckel, senior national water organizer at Food & Water Action. “People are facing the reality of living through a summer without running water right now. We need national action to protect every single person in this country from inhumane utility shutoffs, nothing less.”
“Now more than ever it is clear that access to core services like water, electricity, and broadband is a human right.”
—Johanna Bozuwa, Democracy Collaborative.
The letter comes as the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 13%, according to economists—the worst since the Great Depression. The Department of Labor announced at the beginning of April that 17 million Americans successfully filed jobless claims in the past four weeks as the pandemic forced businesses across the country to shut down.
Any upcoming relief package must include the reconnection of utilities for any household that has experienced a shutoff and the forgiveness of bill payments and late fees for low-wealth households, the groups wrote. Actions by states and some utility companies in recent weeks have given relief from shutoffs to more than half of the U.S. population—but advocates say that support must be extended to all Americans.
In addition to relief for struggling families, the groups called on Congress to invest heavily in long-term funding for clean energy systems and percentage-of-income payment plans for water, electricity, and other utilities to help prevent families from being financially overburdened to pay for necessities.
According to the letter, about 1% of American households experienced utility shutoffs within the past three months, before the pandemic caused the current unemployment crisis. The average water utility disconnected water access for about 5% of households due to non-payment in 2016, affecting about 15% of Americans, and nearly a quarter of households do not have internet at home.
“Lacking access to these essential utility services disproportionately harms low-wealth communities, communities of color, and tribes,” reads the letter. “Moreover, the climate emergency has exacerbated the country’s extreme weather conditions—through unprecedented wildfires, heat waves, and increased frequency and intensity of storms—that necessitate a greater demand in electricity, water, and broadband services for survival and to maintain a basic standard of living, most especially in American Indian and Alaska Native and rural regions.”
Now that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the precarity in which millions of Americans live, the groups said, Congress must take immediate action make sure all households can access utilities.
“Now more than ever it is clear that access to core services like water, electricity, and broadband is a human right,” said Johanna Bozuwa of the Democracy Collaborative. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was confronted with a utility shutoff crisis, particularly in communities of color.”
“Congress needs to step up and secure access for all,” said Bozuwa, “as well as make long-term commitments to affordable, more resilient systems by investing in renewable energy, cleaning up our water systems, and expanding broadband access.”Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.