Working In These Times

Wednesday, Mar 25, 2020, 10:52 am  ·  By Rebecca Burns

Warehouse Workers Suspect Amazon’s Promise of PTO for Part-Time Employees Is a Bait-and-Switch

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)  

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon has rolled out a new policy that extends paid time off to thousands of part-time operations employees.

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Thursday, Mar 26, 2020, 1:20 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Working or Unemployed, Construction Workers Are Screwed

A Construction worker takes care of traffic as they build a new tower on March 26, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)  

With no firm national standards about shutting down construction projects as the coronavirus stalks the nation, building trade unions and their members are facing a grim multidimensional crisis: high unemployment, faltering pensions, lost benefits, plummeting dues revenue—and, for those who do remain on the job, the constant question of whether they should quit in order to protect their health.

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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2020, 10:31 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Back to Work? You First.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus outbreak in the press briefing room at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)  

“We must reopen the economy,” you say. “It is vital that we send people back to work,” you say. Well, it sounds important. By all means—you first.

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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2020, 7:19 am  ·  By Leopoldo Tartaglia

The Italian Workers Fighting Like Hell to Shut Down Their Workplaces

People wear face masks as they attend the live-broadcasting of Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus prayer during the Coronavirus emergency at Saint Peter's Square, on March 8, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)  

Italy is the Western European country where the coronavirus pandemic spread first and where its tragic effects are being felt the most. As of March 17, the official data say 26,062 have tested positive in Italy for COVID-19, 12,894 have been hospitalized—including 2,060 in intensive care—and 2,503 have died.

The epidemic exploded in the richest and most industrialized regions of northern Italy. Lombardy is the most affected, followed by Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

Lombardy and Veneto are examples of one of the fundamental issues called into question by the pandemic crisis: the adequacy of the Italian health system, in particular the public one. Italy still has one of the best public health systems in the world. The health reform of 1978 established a universal and free health system, available to all citizens, financed by general taxation.

But this reform came at a time when the Italian Communist Party still existed and the Christian Democratic governments still had to deal with unions and the political power of the workers' movement. Since then, and with particular virulence since the late 1990s, three phenomena have overlapped which have weakened the system dramatically (even if, thanks to union struggles, they have not completely destroyed it): (1) the regionalization of the national health system, driven by agitation in the Northern Regions for secession; (2) the privatization of many health services, particularly in these regions; (3) European and national "austerity" policies that produced cuts in public spending and to worker pensions, cuts which have strongly affected public health.

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Monday, Mar 23, 2020, 11:26 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Worried Call Center Workers Do Not Understand Why They Are Risking Their Lives for Customer Service

(Photo by Daniel Reinhardt/picture alliance via Getty Images)  

As the coronavirus has shuttered swaths of America’s offices, many workers in corporate call centers say they are still expected to work, risking their own health. Call centers have been deemed “essential” by the Department of Homeland Security, but employees with little paid sick leave say they feel forced to work, in constant fear of infection, in order to keep customer service lines functioning smoothly.

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Thursday, Mar 19, 2020, 6:00 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Sara Nelson: Our Airline Relief Bill Is a Template for Rescuing Workers Instead of Bailing Out Execs

Flight attendants union president Sara Nelson is working with House Democrats on a relief package to help airline workers, with strings attached for management: No executive bonuses. No stock buybacks. No spending money on union-busting. Worker representation on boards.   (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sara Nelson is the head of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) and is widely considered to be a candidate for the next leader of the AFL-CIO. She gained prominence when she called for consideration of a general strike to end the government shutdown of 2019. Now, with the entire economy cratering in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Nelson is working overtime to help craft a relief package for the teetering airline industry that keeps all employees on the payroll—a model she says can be “a template” for a national bill to give relief to all workers.

She spoke to In These Times on Wednesday about how to save the airline industry, what unions should be doing to save working people from devastation during this crisis, and the opportunities for radicalism that lie ahead.

A $50 billion airline rescue package is in the news. What should it look like? 

Sara Nelson: It has to be centered on workers. We have a plan that provides payroll subsidies to keep everyone on the payroll. That’s really important, because you have to keep everyone in their job, if not on the job. Payroll subsidy for not just the airlines, but also all the airport workers, is approximately $10 billion a month. For a three month package, that’s $30 billion. So $30 billion of the $50 billion is for maintaining payroll. 

What’s your sense of the likelihood of that happening? 

Nelson: This has already been incorporated into the House Democratic plan, and they’re working with us on a package that would provide these payroll subsidies, plus a direct loan from the government to the airlines, with certain requirements attached. So this is a relief package focused on workers, not a bailout. 

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Wednesday, Mar 18, 2020, 3:30 pm  ·  By Mindy Isser

What Workers Have Already Won in the Face of Coronavirus

Workers clean a subway station in Brooklyn as New York City confronts the coronavirus outbreak on March 11, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the stark reality of the United States: our inadequate, for-profit health care system, our precarious employment conditions, and the deep inequality that is foundational to our society. But it’s also shown us that when things get dire enough, the working class fights back. Over the last few weeks, in dealing with the outbreak of the coronavirus, people across the United States have organized at their workplaces, and also won major reforms in the housing sector. Workers' consciousness about the cruelty of our profit-driven society—and about their own power—is being raised by the day, thanks to the failure of government leadership. While it’s likely that we will enter a recession or even depression soon, workers are still fighting for what they deserve—and that struggle must continue after the pandemic passes.

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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2020, 3:55 pm  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

Call Center Workers Fear For Their Health as They Work in “One Big Germ Pool”

Call center workers fear for their safety. (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)  

Employees of a large Consumer Cellular call center in Arizona say that their health is in danger from the spread of the coronavirus, as their company has kept hundreds of people in the call center working in close quarters even as it has shuttered its corporate headquarters in Portland, Oregon.*

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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2020, 10:01 am  ·  By Hamilton Nolan

You and Your Boss Have the Same Interests Right Now. That Is a Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity.

(Photo by Ren Netherland / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)  

“We’re a team.” “We’re a family.” “We’re all on the same side.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” These are lies that companies regularly tell their employees. In fact, in normal times, the interests of the workers and the bosses are mutually exclusive. Their bigger slice of the pie gives you a smaller slice. But these are not normal times. For the first time in a lifetime, the interests of the workers and the bosses are—temporarily—the same. That is an opportunity.

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Monday, Mar 16, 2020, 4:35 pm  ·  By Sarah Lazare and Adam Johnson

Under-the-Table Workers Are Left Out of the Paid Sick Leave Conversation

A woman wearing a protective mask shines a customer's shoes at Grand Central Terminal on March 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)  

First published at Jacobin.

In the rush — or at least the pretense of rush — to bring immediate economic relief to the millions of average workers gutted by the tanking global economy brought on by the coronavirus, Democratic Party elites and centrist papers of record Washington Post and New York Times are cementing the terms of the debate to a narrow, ineffective, and wholly inadequate discussion of paid sick leave.

Over a forty-eight-hour period from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, the New York Times has run twelve articles and op-eds online that substantively mention paid sick leave, including Associated Press and Reuters reprints. Not a single one of those pieces mentions the fact that informal economy and contract workers would not benefit from such protections, which are urgently needed — but ideally would just be one strand of a much larger safety net.

piece published Saturday by the New York Times editorial board does criticize the legislation for paid sick leave passed by the House Saturday morning, shepherded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for not going far enough because it doesn’t apply to companies with 500 or more workers. “In fact, the bill guarantees sick leave only to about 20 percent of workers,” the piece notes. “Big employers like McDonald’s and Amazon are not required to provide any paid sick leave, while companies with fewer than 50 employees can seek hardship exemptions from the Trump administration.” Yet nowhere in this article will you find any mention of the informal economy workers who are entirely excluded from this legislation.

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