Hundreds of child care providers in 27 states and Washington, D.C., went on strike Monday to remind policymakers how essential they are, not only to families but to the nation’s economy. Early childhood professionals – and the parents they serve – said they’re fed up with the lack of progress on policy promises such as better wages and expanded subsidies. “I’ve never met a family who has said child care is affordable,” said Allyx Schiavone, a member of the Ideal Learning Roundtable, a national group of developmental early childhood education experts. Schiavone helped organize a Connecticut-specific day of activism this year. Few providers make much of a profit, and many are in the red: Teaching and caring for young children is as expensive as it is essential.
On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses the coronavirus with investigative journalist and author, Nina Burleigh. “There are many ways to begin to tell the story of why more Americans died of Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, than in any other nation on earth,” Nina Burleigh writes in her new book ‘Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic’. “We could start at the Washington, DC hospital with doctors amputating the lower leg of the White House chief of security, a man who caught Covid in Donald Trump's mask-free domain. Or we could talk to the families of forty-six veterans who died within days of each other in a Veterans Administration nursing home in Alabama.
Business owners around the country are offering up a lament: “no one wants to work.” A McDonalds franchise said they had to close because no one wants to work; North Carolina congressman David Rouzer claimed that a too-generous welfare state has turned us all lazy as he circulated photos of a shuttered fast-food restaurant supposedly closed “due to NO STAFF.” Most of these complaints seem to be coming from franchised restaurants. Why? Well, it’s not complicated. Service workers didn’t decide one day to stop working — rather huge numbers of them cannot work anymore. Because they’ve died of coronavirus. A recent study from the University of California–San Francisco looks at increased morbidity rates due to COVID, stratified by profession, from the height of the pandemic last year.
Following the passage of stimulus packages with aid for workers like expanded unemployment benefits, politicians and business owners have wrung their hands over a supposed worker shortage as people refuse to return to work, as they say. A new report pushes back on that narrative and shows that actually, it’s more likely low wages offered by businesses that are causing workers to want to quit. The report by One Fair Wage finds that 53 percent of restaurant workers have considered leaving their jobs during the pandemic, and 76 percent of restaurant workers cite low wages and tips as the reason for leaving the industry. Being paid a low wage was the most common reason for leaving by far; COVID-19 concerns were the next highest reason, with 55 percent of workers saying they were concerned about pandemic safety.
Last year, as the meatpacking industry’s frontline workers were infected with Covid-19 and the industry pushed claims of a meat shortage, companies in the U.S. exported more than $22 billion in meat products, continuing an upward trend in foreign sales since 2016. Trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2020 the value of American meat exports reached its highest level since 2014. Companies exporting meat products from the Midwest also fared well, increasing sales by about $500 million from 2019 to 2020.
We’d like to tell you a story of our struggles with Covid and our safety concerns—and how we ended up getting two city councils to enact hazard pay by law. As grocery store workers, we were called heroes early in the pandemic—but over time, we felt less and less valued. Expendable. Yet we are not victims; we rose up to demand better. To paraphrase Fredrick Douglass, we certainly did not get everything we fought for, but we certainly fought for everything we got. The two of us work at different companies—one at a Kroger-owned store in Seattle and the other at a suburban store run by PCC Markets, a small independent grocery chain.
When Dylan’s grocery delivery arrived a few days before New Years, it came with some bad news. The delivery driver who brought his groceries from Vons mentioned that drivers across the state are getting fired by Vons, Pavilions, and other California stores owned by Albertsons Companies in late February. Stores will instead turn to a third-party delivery service using independent contractors. “I was disturbed and disappointed that Vons would eliminate these jobs. I felt like they were the only remaining company that treated delivery drivers ethically but no longer,” said Dylan. After publication, an Albertsons representative sent the following statement...
Nurse Kristen Cline was working a 12-hour shift in October at the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when a code blue rang through the halls. A patient in an isolation room was dying of a coronavirus that had raged for eight months across the country before it made the state the brightest red dot in a nation of hot spots. Cline knew she needed to protect herself before entering the room, where a second COVID-19 patient was trembling under the covers, sobbing. She reached for the crinkled and dirty N95 mask she had reused for days. In her post-death report, Cline described how the patient fell victim to a hospital in chaos. The crash cart and breathing bag that should have been in the room were missing.
Broadly speaking, there have been two very large labor stories this year. The first is, “I have been forced into unemployment due to the pandemic, and I am scared.” And the second is, “I have been forced to continue working during the pandemic, and I am scared.” America’s labor reporters spent most of our year writing variations of these stories, in each company and in each industry and in each city. Those stories continue to this day. The federal government left working people utterly forsaken. They did not create a national wage replacement system to pay people to stay home, as many European nations did. OSHA was asleep on the job, uninterested in workplace safety related to coronavirus.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdowns started in March, a new class of “essential workers” continued to go to work across the United States under new dangerous conditions. As stories came out about workers lacking personal protective equipment, or PPE, and working in crowded workplaces, union workers began to take action. They stopped work, organized sick-outs, won hazard pay, protested employer COVID-19 policies that left them unsafe and negotiated for improvements. Unions have made workplaces safer, as research has shown that unionized essential workers have had better COVID-19 workplace practices during the pandemic.
Workers will feel the ramifications of this unprecedented year long into the future. The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 300,000 lives, destroyed millions of jobs, busted gaping holes in public budgets, and magnified the myriad inequalities that have come to define life in the United States. Notwithstanding a few bright spots, the labor movement struggled to find its footing in the biggest workplace health and safety crisis of our lifetimes. The year started with 3.5 percent unemployment—the lowest in a half-century—and hopes that workers might be able to use the tight labor market to recover some of what had been lost over decades of concessions.