Labor

Why America’s health care workers are escalating their fight for fair treatment and patient safety

So many people with COVID-19 sought treatment at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in recent months that the hospital triaged patients in a tent outside the facility and set up a makeshift ward in the main lobby.

Many workers put in 14- and 16-hour shifts to keep the Southern California facility operating during the crisis, with some comforting the dying and others volunteering to use their Spanish skills to help communicate with bereft family members over the phone.

But instead of recognizing workers who risked their lives and pushed themselves to exhaustion, the hospital compounded the strain by demanding concessions and dragging out contract negotiations for more than a year.

Around the country, hospitals continue to stretch workers to the breaking point and put the entire health care system at risk.

"The fact is that without us, the hospitals have no one," observed Alma Garzon, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 183, which represents hundreds of workers at Providence St. Mary.

"Some of them don't understand what we really do," Garzon said of hospital executives. "The higher-ups are not going to come in and take care of our patients. They're not going to get their hands dirty."

The pandemic exacerbated staffing shortages that plagued hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities long before COVID-19.

To protect their communities during the crisis, workers stepped up, put in arduous amounts of overtime and took on extra duties. Yet Garzon said that when union officials cited the need to invest in workers and take steps to boost staffing levels, management's response was: "You signed up for this."

"That was a big slap in the face," said Garzon, whose members ratified a new contract October 7, after about 15 months of the hospital's stonewalling.

More and more health systems treat workers with the same kind of disdain.

That's fueling widespread burnout and fatigue, and it's forcing a growing number of health care workers to escalate their fights for fair treatment and patient safety.

Nurses at a Massachusetts hospital began a strike seven months ago. Workers at facilities in New York and Oregon also took to picket lines in recent weeks.

California's Inland Empire is another potential flashpoint. About 7,400 members of USW Local 7600 are among tens of thousands of workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities there who recently authorized a strike because of demands by management that would impoverish their families and compromise care.

Although the conglomerate maintained a healthy bottom line during the pandemic, it wants to hold down wages for current workers and drastically cut pay scales for new hires, a one-two punch certain to worsen staffing shortages and put hospitals at risk.

Adding insult to injury, the health system intends to carry out the proposal on the backs of workers in environmental services, dietary and other behind-the-scenes departments.

All fulfill essential roles in patient care.

Yet because these workers have a low profile, health systems often treat them as expendable and try to cut corners at their expense. Kaiser Permanente's proposed pay scale would start some new workers right around California's minimum wage and suppress their earning potential for the rest of their lives.

"That's not OK. It's disrespectful and an outrage to health care workers everywhere. Everybody deserves a living wage," said Norberto Gomez, vice president of Local 7600.

Instead of urgently seeking an agreement, Kaiser Permanente retaliated against workers by threatening to withhold or cancel contractually obligated time off until the end of the labor dispute. It even stooped to harassing workers who wore union T-shirts.

Like their counterparts in California and across the country, Jackie Anklam and about 620 other workers at Ascension St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, shouldered extra responsibilities during the pandemic.

Greeters repeatedly risked exposure to COVID-19 by handing out fresh masks to all of those entering the hospital. Phlebotomists conducted drive-through coronavirus tests in the facility's parking lots.

And environmental services workers put their lives on the line to sanitize the floors, walls, linens and furnishings of rooms occupied by COVID-19 patients. The hour-long cleanings—conducted in gowns, gloves and goggles—often left the workers drenched in sweat.

Yet, like Garzon and Gomez, Anklam found herself fighting to preserve workers' hard-earned benefits during contract negotiations with ungrateful executives.

"I just think they undervalue the work my members do," said Anklam, president of USW Local 9899. "I don't know why they don't get it. They don't look at the big picture."

The lack of respect only spurred Anklam and her colleagues to fight harder. They stood firm and won wage increases and benefit enhancements.

"The members spoke," Anklam said.

Workers at Kaiser Permanente want nothing more than for the health system to come to its senses and take the steps necessary to avert a strike.

But they realize that they cannot truly care for their patients without also providing for themselves and their families and holding the health system accountable. Right now, with the pandemic still raging, their commitment in the face of shabby treatment is all that keeps dozens of Kaiser Permanente facilities open to the public.

"People are sick and tired, and they've had enough, and they're ready to stand up and fight back," Gomez said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

This 3-minute video explains how a top Democrat turned paid family leave into an industry giveaway

In just over three minutes, People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig on Tuesday explained in a video posted to social media how a paid leave proposal put forward in the U.S. House would be a "disaster" for working families—and a boon for the private insurance industry.

Produced by the outlet More Perfect Union, the video describes how House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.)—who counts the insurance industry as his top contributor since taking office more than three decades ago—put forward a plan to replace President Joe Biden's straightforward proposal to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Democrat Gutting Biden's Paid Family Leave Plan www.youtube.com


Under Biden's plan, the SSA would provide new parents with cash benefits to cover a portion of their wages for 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child—a modest proposal considering the amount of paid time off parents have in other wealthy countries. Ten countries—including Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, and Norway—offer more than a year of paid leave.

Neal's proposal, released by the House Ways and Means Committee last month, suggests that the 16-term congressman believes even 12 weeks of partial pay is too generous for workers in the United States.

Under Neal's plan, Bruenig explains, the federal government would distribute cash benefits not directly to new parents but to employers, which would then pay insurance companies to provide paid leave to workers—if they meet certain criteria.

The proposal, Bruenig wrote in a blog post last month, "is a complicated mess riddled with design problems that could be easily fixed."

As Bruenig explains in the video, Neal's plan contains three major flaws:

  • It excludes parents who haven't worked in the three to six months prior to adoption or childbirth, allowing insurers to discriminate against new parents who recently finished school or job training, those with work-limiting disabilities or pregnancies that kept them from working, or who faced unemployment;
  • It includes no minimum benefit level, allowing workers to receive benefits equal to or less than 85% of what they earned, so "low-paid workers who cannot afford to give up 15% of their pay would not be able to access the program"; and
  • It provides 12 weeks of paid leave per parent, so two-parent households are eligible for twice as much leave as one-parent families, and single parents would be left with higher child care bills.

The proposal "needlessly [turns] Biden's paid leave ambitions into a private insurance giveaway," said Bruenig, by allowing insurance companies to reject an estimated one in three new mothers, based on the first provision, and limit the benefits offered to new parents.

"It would also be a disaster for the federal budget, because businesses that take a below average amount of paid leave would be able to extract money out of the system for their own profit," Bruenig explained in the video.

Bruenig noted that Neal's plan has won endorsements from the insurance industry, including Prudential, which praised the proposal as a "partnership between employers, employees, and benefits providers," and Sun Life, one of the nation's largest insurers.

As The American Prospect reported last month, "the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a trade group that lobbied Neal to include private business, praised the final product... thanking Neal for 'the opportunity to partner and for continued dialogue.'"

Passing Neal's proposal instead of Biden's straightforward paid family leave plan—like other proposals put forth by right-wing corporate Democrats as lawmakers debate the president's Build Back Better agenda—is likely to harm the Democratic Party in upcoming elections, Bruenig said, as well as failing to help working families who have been demanding paid leave for years.

"Passing a poorly designed paid leave proposal is a dangerous political game for Democrats," said Bruenig. "Voters would rightly blame them for the difficult and inefficient program they've now been forced to deal with, wiping away what should have been a political winner."

"When we make voters feel that government can't deliver," he added, "it hurts the entirety of the progressive agenda."

How two economists challenged the conventional wisdom about the minimum wage

by Veronika Dolar, SUNY Old Westbury

For decades it was conventional wisdom in the field of economics that a higher minimum wage results in fewer jobs.

In part, that's because it's based on the law of supply and demand, one of the most well-known ideas in economics. Despite it being called a “law," it's actually two theories that suggest if the price of something goes up – wages, for example – demand will fall – in this case, for workers. Meanwhile, their supply will rise. Thus an introduction of a high minimum wage would cause the supply of labor to exceed demand, resulting in unemployment.

But this is just a theory with many built-in assumptions.

Then, in 1994, David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of this year's Nobel winners, and the late Alan Krueger used a natural experiment to show that, in the real world, this doesn't actually happen. In 1992, New Jersey increased its minimum wage while neighboring Pennsylvania did not. Yet there was little change in employment.

When I discuss their work in my economics classes, however, I don't portray it as an example of economists providing a definitive answer to the question of whether minimum wage hikes kill jobs. Instead, I challenge my students to think about all the ways one could answer this question, which clearly cannot be settled based on our beliefs. But rather, the answer requires data – which in economics, can be hard to come by.

Using models to study behavior

Economics studies the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. And so, like other social sciences, economics is fundamentally interested in human behavior.

But humans behave in a wide variety of often hard-to-predict ways, with countless complications. As a result, economists rely on abstraction and theory to create models in hopes of representing and explaining the complex world that they are studying. This emphasis on complicated mathematical models, theory and abstraction has made economics a lot less accessible to the general public than other social sciences, such as psychology or sociology.

Economists also use these models to answer important questions, such as “Does a minimum wage cause unemployment?" In fact, this is one of the most studied questions in all of economics since at least 1912, when Massachusetts became the first state to create a minimum wage. The federal wage floor came in 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

And it's been controversial ever since. Proponents argue that a higher minimum wage helps create jobs, grow the economy, fight poverty and reduce wage inequality.

Critics stress that minimum wages cause unemployment, hurt the economy and actually harm the low-income people that were supposed to be helped.

A tale of two theories

Most students in my introductory microeconomics class can easily show, using the standard supply and demand model, that an increase in the minimum wage above the level that the market sets on its own should drive up unemployment. In fact, this is one of the most commonly used examples in introductory economics textbooks.

However, this result assumes a perfectly competitive labor market in which workers and employers are abundant and employees can change jobs with ease. This is rarely the case in the real world, where a few companies frequently dominate in what are known as monopsonies.

And so others theorized that because monopsonistic companies had the power to set wages artificially low, a higher minimum wage could, perhaps counterintuitively, prompt companies to hire more workers in order to recover some of their lost profitability as a result of the increased labor costs.

How can economists tell which of these two theories may be right? They need data.

Data trumps theory

Studying the real world is difficult, and it's constantly changing, so it is not easy to obtain all the relevant evidence.

Unlike in medicine or other sciences, economists cannot conduct rigidly controlled clinical trials, a method vacinologists used to test the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. Due to financial, ethical or practical constraints, we cannot easily split people into treatment or control groups – as is common in psychology. And we cannot randomly assign a higher minimum wage to some and not others and observe what will happen, which is how a biomedical scientist might study the impact of various treatments on human health.

And in studying the minimum wage, we cannot simply look at past times when it was increased and check what happened to unemployment a few weeks or months later. There are many other factors that affect the labor market, such as outsourcing and immigration, and it's virtually impossible to isolate and pin down one factor such as a minimum wage hike as the cause.

This is where the pioneering work of natural experiments like the ones Card and Krueger have used over the years to study the effects of raising the minimum wage and other policy changes comes in. It began with their 1994 paper, but they've replicated the findings with other studies that have deepened the amount of data that shows the original theory about the minimum wage causing job losses is likely wrong.

Their approach isn't without flaws – mostly technical ones –- and in fact economists still don't have a clear answer to the question about the minimum wage that I posed earlier in this article. But because of Card, Krueger and their research, the debate over the minimum wage has gotten a lot less theoretical and much more empirical.

Only by studying how humans actually behave can economics hope to make meaningful predictions about how a policy change like increasing the minimum wage is likely to affect the behavior of the economy and the people living in it.The Conversation

Veronika Dolar, Assistant Professor of Economics, SUNY Old Westbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'John Deere made billions and threw us peanut shells': Striking workers speak out

Liberal economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, along with union leaders, have often complained that the salaries of CEOs of large companies have been increasingly much more rapidly than the salaries of their rank-and-file employees. Such complaints are now being made by striking employees of John Deere, which manufactures agricultural machinery and other heavy equipment.

More Perfect Union has tweeted a video explaining why the workers are angry. John Deere's CEO John C. May made $15.6 million in 2020, while its workers are only getting a raise of two or three dollars per hour over a three-year period.

In the video, John Deere employee Chris Laursen explains, "I've been working at John Deere for 19 years now. The reason why we're striking is 1997 is when Deere divided and conquered. They made the two-tier wage system where new hires coming in after the first of October 1997, you know, got paid less wages, didn't have health care after retirement — a pension which is about a third of our predecessors. And, you know, we've basically been taking concessions from that point for the last 25 years."

Laursen noted that May "got a 160% raise."

"Look," Lauren says in the video, "I make $20.82, I think, an hour…. We sent a strong, clear message to John Deere that, you know, a $1 raise an hour is not going to do much for me."

John Deere, the video notes, wants to end its pension system entirely for new hires.

Also featured in the video is Michelle Lundy, a welder for John Deere who makes $19.60 an hour.

"Just for the whole factory," Lundy says in the video, "I think they need a $5 raise across the board just for the fact that we can go to a fast food place and make as much money and not wear our bodies down."

Why record numbers of workers are quitting and striking

On September 14, a young woman in Louisiana named Beth McGrath posted a selfie Facebook video of herself working at Walmart. Her body language shows a nervous energy as she works up the courage to speak on the intercom and announces her resignation to shoppers. "Everyone here is overworked and underpaid," she begins, before going on to call out specific managers for inappropriate and abusive behavior. "I hope you don't speak to your families the way you speak to us," she said before ending with "f**k this job!"

Perhaps McGrath was inspired by Shana Ragland in Lubbock, Texas, who nearly a year ago carried out a similarly public resignation in a TikTok video that she posted from the Walmart store where she worked. Ragland's complaints were similar to McGrath's as she accused managers of constantly disparaging workers. "I hope you don't talk to your daughters the way you talk to me," she said over the store intercom before signing off with, "F**k the managers, f**k this company."

The viral resignations of these two young women are bookending a year of volatility in the American workforce that economists have branded the Great Resignation. Women in particular are seen as leading the trend.

The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.

If such a high rate of resignations were occurring at a time when jobs were plentiful, it might be seen as a sign of a booming economy where workers have their pick of offers. But the same labor report showed that job openings have also declined, suggesting that something else is going on. A new Harris Poll of people with employment found that more than half of workers want to leave their jobs. Many cite uncaring employers and a lack of scheduling flexibility as reasons for wanting to quit. In other words, millions of American workers have simply had enough.

So serious is the labor market upheaval that Jack Kelly, senior contributor to Forbes.com, a pro-corporate news outlet, has defined the trend as, "a sort of workers' revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff." In what might be a reference to viral videos like those of McGrath, Ragland, and the growing trend of #QuitMyJob posts, Kelly goes on to say, "The quitters are making a powerful, positive and self-affirming statement saying that they won't take the abusive behavior any longer."

Still, some advisers suggest countering the worker rage with "bonding exercises" such as "Gratitude sharing," and games. Others suggest increasing trust between workers and bosses or "exercis[ing] empathetic curiosity" with employees. But such superficial approaches entirely miss the point.

The resignations ought to be viewed hand in hand with another powerful current that many economists are ignoring: a growing willingness by unionized workers to go on strike.

Film crews may soon halt work as 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced an upcoming national strike. About 10,000 employees of John Deere, who are represented by the United Auto Workers, are also preparing to strike after rejecting a new contract. Kaiser Permanente is facing a potential strike from 24,000 of its nurses and other health care workers in Western states over poor pay and labor conditions. And about 1,400 Kellogg workers in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are already striking over poor pay and benefits.

The announced strikes are coming so thick and fast that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has dubbed the situation "an unofficial general strike."

Yet union representation remains extremely low across the United States—the result of decades of concerted corporate-led efforts to undermine the bargaining power of workers. Today only about 12 percent of workers are in a union.

The number of strikes and of striking workers might be far higher if more workers were unionized. Non-union workers like McGrath and Ragland hired by historically anti-union companies like Walmart might have been able to organize their fellow workers instead of resorting to individual resignations. While viral social media posts of quitting are impactful in driving the conversation around worker dissatisfaction, they have little direct bearing on the lives of the workers and the colleagues they leave behind.

One example of how union organizing made a concrete difference to working conditions is a new contract that 7,000 drug store workers at Rite Aid and CVS stores in Los Angeles just ratified. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 negotiated a nearly 10 percent pay raise for workers as well as improved benefits and safety standards.

And when companies don't comply, workers have more leverage when acting as a collective bargaining unit than as individuals. Take Nabisco workers who went on strike in five states this summer. Mondelez International, Nabisco's parent company, saw record profits during the pandemic with surging sales of its snack foods. So flush was the company with cash that it compensated its CEO with a whopping $16.8 million annual pay and spent $1.5 billion on stock buybacks earlier this year. Meanwhile, the average worker salary was an appallingly low $31,000 a year. Many Nabisco jobs were sent across the border to Mexico, where the company was able to further drive down labor costs.

After weeks on the picket line, striking Nabisco workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, returned to work having won modest retroactive raises of 2.25 percent, $5,000 bonuses and increased employer contributions to their retirement plans. The company, which reported a 12 percent increase in revenue earlier this year, can well afford this and more.

Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers' rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.

But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.

In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.

Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which is a business lobby group that wants anything but democracy in the workplace, is deeply concerned about these proposed changes and sent a letter to lawmakers to that effect.

It remains to be seen if corporate lobbyists will succeed this time around at keeping labor laws toothless. But as workers continue to quit their jobs, and as strikes among unionized workers grow, employers ignore the warning signs of rage and frustration at their peril.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Why are teachers in our country paid less? Because we devalue what they do

Our most precious resource is our children. Their development is what ensures the health of our nation. Next to parents, K-12 teachers are the most instrumental in cultivating that resource. They are the primary means of transferring knowledge from old to young.

This most important of jobs can't attract and retain people to fill them. A report published by the National Education Association details an alarming number of teachers deciding not to return to classrooms this fall. And we may be about to face a long-term teaching shortage. According to the Center for American Progress, enrollment in teacher training programs dropped by a third from 2010 to 2018.

Why?

When I began working on this piece, I was sure that I would focus on the low pay of teachers. I saw that a starting teacher in the school district where I graduated from makes $36,000 per year. This kind of compensation is untenable for such an emotionally taxing profession that requires four or five years of training.

But I shifted gears rather quickly. Something comes before pay — our belief that the job is of value. Teachers in our country are paid less because we devalue what they do.

"Women's work"
Standard views by economists as to what determines wages will include worker productivity or supply and demand. Meanwhile, many economic sociologists claim that our societal assumptions about the value of a job influence the wages it can command. If a job is seen as "women's work," the wages for that job decline.

One version of this claim links the five c's — cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical work — to lower pay, because these jobs are predominantly female. One can see this without any complex analysis.

But when complex statistical models are used to tease out precise changes in pay, it gets worse. A study in 2009 showed the changes in the average wages of a profession as women move into it.

The study looked at changes from 1950 to 2000, and the findings were eye-opening. As highlighted in the Times, the pay for jobs in recreation declined by 57 percent over that period, as women entered the profession. As women became designers, wages fell by 34 percent. For biologists, 18 percent.

"It's not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance … it's just that the employers are deciding to pay it less," said Paula England, one of the authors of the study. In other words, wages are not simply about productivity or the demand for a job. It is also about how much we value what that person does.

Since the advent of mass public education in the mid-19th century, teaching has been a female-dominated profession. By the late 1880s, women were 63 percent of the nation's teachers. The percentage of women in teaching has only increased, even as other professions opened to women in the late 20th century. By 2015-2016, there were 3.8 million public K-12 teachers in the US, of which about 77 percent were female.

The long association of teaching to femininity is partly to blame for the devaluing of the teaching profession. But there is another reason.

Draining the pool
One of the best books I have read over the past year was Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. McGhee, the former president of the think tank Demos, describes the consequences of the racial hierarchy in the US.

Many white Americans view public policy, as it relates to race, as a zero-sum game. They interpret policies that disproportionately benefit Black Americans as them losing something.

McGhee uses the example of public swimming pools closing across the country in the 1960s after civil rights legislation made separate swimming facilities unconstitutional. McGhee argues that white communities saw a sharing of privileges with Black Americans as a lessening of theirs. They voted to close public swimming facilities. As McGhee puts it, they preferred to "drain the pool" rather than share it with Black Americans. McGhee, clearly linking this to the policies of the Republic Party post-1960, sees this dynamic in other public goods as well, from social programs to public infrastructure to health care.

And so it is with teaching.

Republicans have been attacking public schools since at least Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. Most liberal commentators will center their discussion on school choice and vouchers — something Reagan indeed brought up during his campaign. School choice, some may argue, is a way of starving a public school system. A more cynical view is that school choice would reduce the power of teachers' unions that almost universally support liberal policies.

But there is something deeper here, and this is why I like McGhee's analysis. Our public school system is supposed to be a great leveler — a dismantler of racial and class hierarchy. Our schools are supposed to be places where young people from different backgrounds can meet, mingle and learn together. It is … a kind of pool.

Teachers are caretakers of that pool. As such, there is little mystery as to why what they do is devalued. Why would Republicans support a pay raise or better working conditions for people who are a part of a system they despise?

They want that pool drained and cemented over permanently.

Valuing value
Two factors work together to suppress the wages of teachers. There is the historical association of teaching as "women's work." And then there is the disdain by white conservatives for public goods that threaten to level a racial hierarchy.

Knowing the cause gives us some clues as to the cure. Until we address the undervaluing of teachers, an increase in teacher salaries or investments that improve their working conditions is a non-starter. The organizations that support K-12 teachers need to value value. Our expectations about what teachers deserve, their worth, and their social esteem are important in of themselves. Without public perceptions of teachers as valuable, lawmakers are simply not going to make teacher raises or smaller classroom sizes a major priority.

I am calling out our two most prominent K-12 organizations – The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. These organizations need to make a concerted effort to improve the public perception of teachers. They need to shift some time and energy away from partisan politics and invest it in demonstrating to the American public — and yes, this includes conservatives — the value public school teachers have in our society.

Why America needs a national program of paid sick and family leave

Keli Vereb wasn't sure how long it would take to recover from complicated neck surgery last year, but she took comfort knowing she'd be able to focus on healing without having to worry about her job.

That's because United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2227-01 negotiated a contract with Vereb's employer, U.S. Steel, ensuring paid leave for workers who need time to fight for their health.

Millions of other workers need the same security. But they're out of luck because America remains the only major industrialized country without a universal paid leave program that protects workers' livelihoods while they confront serious health and family issues.

President Joe Biden's American Families Plan fills this gaping hole in the nation's social infrastructure. It would provide workers with 12 weeks of paid leave so they can navigate some of life's biggest challenges without fear of unsympathetic bosses docking their wages or even firing them for taking time off.

Congress has begun working on legislation addressing key aspects of Biden's proposal amid overwhelming public support for this commonsense policy.

"I didn't worry about how I was going to pay the bills while I was off," Vereb, a caster scheduler based at U.S. Steel's Irvin Works near Pittsburgh, said of the three months she relied on her union-negotiated leave last year. "My benefits continued. My pension kept accruing."

Vereb faced an arduous recovery after the operation, one of three she's had over the years because of injuries sustained in a fender-bender three decades ago.

"It was a whole lot of healing," recalled Vereb, a union griever, citing the pain and the line of 25 stitches starting at the back of her head. "The first six weeks, I had my neck in a neck immobilizer. I couldn't even… [take] a shower on my own."

She's grateful that the USW fights to retain the leave program during every round of negotiations with U.S. Steel and realizes that many workers across the country are entirely subject to the whims of their bosses.

In the absence of a national paid sick and family leave program, many shortsighted and callous employers force Americans to choose between their health and their paychecks.

About 25 percent of private sector workers lack even one paid sick day a year, let alone a paid leave program. So many put off health screenings or other preventive care, at the risk of compounding their health problems, so they can keep working to cover the bills.

Other Americans power through their jobs despite kidney stones or cancer treatments or report to work with the flu, sore throats or runny noses, even though they can spread diseases to others and put entire workplaces in jeopardy.

The American Families Plan would spare workers those kinds of agonizing decisions, providing them time off not only for themselves but also to care for seriously ill family members, welcome new children, adjust to loved ones' military deployments, grieve relatives' deaths or seek safety following sexual assaults, stalking or domestic violence.

"It should be a benefit everyone has," observed Cheryl Husk, recording secretary for USW Local 9423, which represents workers at Century Aluminum in Hawesville, Kentucky.

Husk's son recently needed time off to provide around-the-clock care for his wife and newborn, but he could only get an unpaid leave from his nonunion mechanic's job. Husk and other family members chipped in to help cover his bills during his time as a caregiver.

Providing paid leave for family emergencies is not only humane but also a way to protect others in the workplace.

"I don't want to be working beside somebody who's distracted by medical issues at home," Husk explained. "That doesn't create a good work atmosphere for anybody. It can even be quite dangerous."

Employers refuse to meet workers' needs even though paid sick leave helps them as well. It reduces the risk of workplace accidents, and it boosts stability, productivity and worker loyalty.

Also, as other countries have discovered in the case of maternity leave, paid time off contributes to a nation's competitiveness.

In America, the lack of universal maternity leave forces many moms back to work within just two weeks of giving birth.

"I could never see that," said Alycia Allen, a painter at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, where members of USW Local 8888 build nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers for the Navy. "Your body's not even ready yet."

When her four-year-old daughter, Skylah, was born, Allen leveraged a pair of USW-negotiated benefits to spend about two months with her infant. Without her union contract, said Allen, a trustee and safety chairperson for Local 8888, she'd have been one of those moms prematurely driven back to work.

Rather than go back too soon, however, some mothers reluctantly quit their jobs, sacrificing careers and income for parenthood. As many as 30 percent of women without paid leave exit the workforce within a year of having a baby. And some remain out for a decade or longer.

That's one reason America trails many other nations in the percentage of women in the workforce. Paid leave helps to keep women on the job, and that drives overall economic performance.

Vereb already knows she'll need a fourth surgery to address the continuing deterioration in her neck.

While she knows her union will ensure she has the time off she needs to recover, she can't help thinking about her brother, who works for a transportation company, and her sister, a grocery store worker, who have no paid leave at all.

If they needed time off for surgery, Vereb said, "they would just lose their jobs."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

The unvaccinated must face consequences

For those readers who only peruse headlines — which, as anyone who has access to news website analytics can tell you, is a shockingly huge percentage of readers — the impending first round of vaccine mandate deadlines are looking like very scary business indeed. Not for people who are afraid of needles, mind you, but those who are afraid that mass resignations and firings — and subsequent staffing shortages of essential workers — are coming.

"These Health Care Workers Would Rather Get Fired Than Get Vaccinated," reads a Monday morning headline at the New York Times.

"New York Hospitals Face Possible Mass Firings as Workers Spurn Vaccines," reads another from Friday.

"Rural Hospitals Worry They Will Lose Staff Because Of Biden's New Vaccine Mandate," warns an NPR headline from over the weekend.

"New York May Use The National Guard To Replace Unvaccinated Health Care Workers," read another.

The state of New York is the first test case of what actually enforcing a government-issued vaccine mandate looks like. Monday is the deadline for health care workers in the state to get the jab or get the pink slip. As the New York Times reports, "resistance to vaccine mandates has so far stopped most states from threatening to fire unvaccinated workers." But New York's newly appointed governor, Democrat Kathy Hochul is calling the unvaccinateds' bluff. Rather than caving in and letting them keep their jobs, she is prepared to call the National Guard to fill in the shortages left by the upcoming firings.

Despite the media doom and gloom, the truth is Hochul needs to be commended for her spine. And every other Democrat who wants to see this pandemic actually come to an end (which should be all of them!) should follow suit. Staffing shortages are a pain, especially during a pandemic, no doubt. But staffing shortages are a minor issue compared to the damage being caused by the unchecked spread of COVID-19, which is increasingly due to one cause: right-wingers who have made refusal to get vaccinated a culture war and identity politics issue. Unless such folks start tasting real consequences for their behavior, the U.S. is going to see another dark winter, as the virus continues to wreak havoc on our economy and health care system. Putting up with staffing shortages is a small price to pay to make sure that Trumpers — a class of people clearly unused to the idea that actions have consequences — actually start feeling real pressure to get vaccinated.

These dread-inducing headlines and anecdotal stories about health care workers quitting are concealing what is actually the far more important story: Vaccine mandates work.

A few paragraphs under the scary headline about "mass firings" in the New York Times comes the actual numbers: "As of Sept. 22, state data shows, around 84 percent of New York's 450,000 hospital workers and 83 percent of its 145,400 nursing home employees had been fully vaccinated." That is almost 10 percentage points over what the same state data set shows as the overall vaccination rate in the state. There are similar positive results in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated vaccines for public school workers, resulting in a 90% vaccination rate among teachers, which is 9 percentage points over the city average. Hospital systems that instituted an earlier vaccine mandate have seen even better results. New York Presbyterian, for example, set the deadline for last Wednesday and already 99% of the system's 48,000 workers are vaccinated.

The effectiveness of mandates has been documented outside of New York as well.

As Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a former White House health policy adviser who works for the University of Pennsylvania now, told Fierce Healthcare, "healthcare systems that have actually mandated this" have " retained over 99% of their workforce." The article goes on to list over a dozen hospital systems that have implemented mandates. In every case, the fraction of workers lost was tiny — certainly well worth losing to protect patients and the larger community from COVID-19.

There's been a similar success at United Airlines, which will start putting workers on leave this week if they don't get vaccinated. A full 97% of employees have thus beat the deadline.

There's a lot of reasons conservatives cite for this refusal to vaccinate, though ultimately it all boils down to a desire to "own the liberals." But a lot of this pettiness is intertwined with a right-wing bravado. To be blunt, white privilege has long shielded many conservatives from the concept of facing consequences for their actions. We see this in a lot of obnoxious right-wing behavior lately, from tantrums over COVID-19 mitigation measures in public places to the attempted insurrection on January 6. Who can forget how many of the arrested Trump supporters expressed genuine shock that they might actually face a legal consequence for participating in a violent effort to overthrow democracy? This lack of familiarity with consequences is likely why there are so many holdouts, even in the face of vaccine mandates. Bluntly put, a lot of them probably don't think that leaders are serious about these threats to fire them, and won't believe it until it happens. As with the Capitol rioters, there's a persistent disbelief on the right that they will ever face real consequences for their bad actions.

This right-wing overconfidence is why sites like HermainCainAward and SorryAntiVaxxer have such popular followings. Watching people pay with their lives after displaying such certainty their anti-social behavior will never result in a consequence may not be the most righteous use of people's time, but is understandable when the rest of us are suffering because of Trumpist hubris. The problem with highlighting COVID-19 deaths to scare the Trumpers straight, however, is that they can always tell themselves that they're not going to be the ones who die since 98.4% of people in the U.S. do survive.

That's precisely why vaccine mandates are so important. The absolute certainty of losing a job is going to motivate a lot more people than the more abstract risk of dying of COVID-19.

But for that threat to become real, well, it has to be real. This means that it's not enough to threaten to fire people who won't get vaccinated. Employers and governments have to follow through. Hochul is right to do whatever it takes to make sure that the unvaccinated get their pink slips this week. If leaders back down in the face of vaccine resistance, the Trumpers will double down, and continue spreading COVID-19 in a pathetic effort to "own the liberals." Threats cannot be empty, especially when facing stubborn people who believe themselves impervious to consequences. Threats need to be backed up with action. It's time to start firing the unvaccinated.

Lots of people say they'll quit if their jobs force them to get vaccinated — but here's the reality

by Jack J. Barry, University of Florida; Ann Christiano, University of Florida, and Annie Neimand, University of Florida

Are workplace vaccine mandates prompting some employees to quit rather than get a shot?

A hospital in Lowville, New York, for example, had to shut down its maternity ward when dozens of staffers left their jobs rather than get vaccinated. At least 125 employees at Indiana University Health resigned after refusing to take the vaccine.

And several surveys have shown that as many as half of unvaccinated workers insist they would leave their jobs if forced to get the shot, which has raised alarms among some that more mandates could lead to an exodus of workers in many industries.

But how many will actually follow through?

Strong words

In June 2021, we conducted a nationwide survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that gave us a sample of 1,036 people who mirrored the diverse makeup of the U.S. We plan to publish the survey in October.

We asked respondents to tell us what they would do if “vaccines were required" by their employer. We prompted them with several possible actions, and they could check as many as they liked.

We found that 16% of employed respondents would quit, start looking for other employment or both if their employer instituted a mandate. Among those who said they were “vaccine hesitant" – almost a quarter of respondents – we found that 48% would quit or look for another job.

Other polls have shown similar results. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey put the share of workers who would quit at 50%.

Separately, we found in our survey that 63% of all workers said a vaccine mandate would make them feel safer.

Quieter actions

But while it is easy and cost-free to tell a pollster you'll quit your job, actually doing so when it means losing a paycheck you and your family may depend upon is another matter.

And based on a sample of companies that already have vaccine mandates in place, the actual number who do resign rather than get the vaccine is much smaller than the survey data suggest.

Houston Methodist Hospital, for example, required its 25,000 workers to get a vaccine by June 7. Before the mandate, about 15% of its employees were unvaccinated. By mid-June, that percentage had dropped to 3% and hit 2% by late July. A total of 153 workers were fired or resigned, while another 285 were granted medical or religious exemptions and 332 were allowed to defer it.

At Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh, New Jersey, only five of its 527 workers quit following its vaccine mandate. Two out of 250 workers left Westminster Village in Bloomington, Illinois, and even in deeply conservative rural Alabama, a state with one of the lowest vaccine uptake rates, Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center lost only six of its 260 employees.

Delta Airlines didn't mandate a shot, but in August it did subject unvaccinated workers to a US$200 per month health insurance surcharge. Yet the airline said fewer than 2% of employees have quit over the policy.

And at Indiana University Health, the 125 workers who quit are out of 35,800 total employees, or 0.3%.

Making it easy

Past vaccine mandates, such as for the flu, have led to similar outcomes: Few people actually quit their jobs over them.

And our research suggests in public communications there are a few things employers can do to minimize the number of workers who quit over the policy.

It starts with building trust with employees. Companies should also make it as easy as possible to get vaccinated – such as by providing on-site vaccine drives, paid time off to get the shot and deal with side effects, and support for child care or transportation.

Finally, research shows it helps if companies engage trusted messengers including doctors, colleagues and family to share information on the vaccine.

In other words, vaccine mandates are unlikely to result in a wave of resignations – but they are likely to lead to a boost in vaccination rates.

[Research into coronavirus and other news from science Subscribe to The Conversation's new science newsletter.]The Conversation

Jack J. Barry, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Public Interest Communications, University of Florida; Ann Christiano, Director, Center for Public Interest Communications, University of Florida, and Annie Neimand, Research Director and Digital Strategist for frank, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why American workers need the National Labor Relations Board to return to its mission

When managers at National Steel installed hidden cameras at an Illinois mill to guard against theft, they ended up being the ones on the wrong side of the law.

The United Steelworkers (USW) reported the illicit surveillance to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and in a 2001 order that remains a major check on corporate abuses, the agency ordered an end to the secret spying.

To USW Local 1899 President Dan Simmons, that still-important case is a constant reminder of how much Americans need the NLRB to ensure justice in the workplace. So he's pleased that after veering wildly off course during the previous administration, the agency under Joe Biden is getting back to its vital mission of enforcing labor rights.

On his first day as president in January, Biden fired the board's general counsel, Peter Robb, a corporate pawn who used his powerful position to turn the agency against the very people it was created to help.

With the support of the Democratic-controlled Senate, Biden replaced Robb with Jennifer Abruzzo, a respected labor lawyer who's expected to bring a fair-minded approach to a role that includes overseeing NLRB field offices, prosecuting unfair labor practice charges and prioritizing cases brought to the five-member board.

Biden and Senate Democrats also put new members on the board, eliminating a pro-business majority that, during the previous four years, issued a string of decisions that eroded workers' rights and rigged the system for employers.

"You knew what their agenda was," Simmons, who represents about 1,800 workers at U.S. Steel and a handful of other companies in Illinois, said of Robb and the previous board. "It was not looking to protect labor or working people. It was clearly driven by corporations."

Simmons, who played a role in fighting the illegal surveillance scheme at now-defunct National Steel, recalled that the company refused to tell the union the whereabouts of the cameras after word about the clandestine surveillance efforts leaked out. The union filed a complaint with the NLRB amid concerns that the company watched workers even while they took medications or made phone calls during breaks.

Since helping to win that case, Simmons has relied on the agency many times while enforcing contracts and labor rights. But he said he "never would have considered" bringing important matters to the NLRB during the previous administration because he knew Robb and his right-wing cronies looked for cases they could exploit to further chip away workers' rights.

"We avoided them," he said.

Abruzzo intends to rebalance the scales. Whereas Robb helped to thwart union drives and expand corporate power, Abruzzo recently sent a memo to field offices laying out her plan for trying to reverse recent board decisions holding workers down.

That includes the board's 2019 ruling that drivers for SuperShuttle, the airport transportation company, are independent contractors rather than employees entitled to form unions. That decision dealt a setback not only to poorly treated van drivers but also to workers throughout the gig economy.

And against the backdrop of COVID-19, more and more companies in the technology, delivery, hospitality and other sectors are relying on gig workers so they can not only skimp on wages and benefits but also exercise absolute control over working conditions.

The SuperShuttle decision robs these workers of the ability to band together for better pay, affordable health care and a voice on the job. Reversing it is essential for building a fairer, stronger economy.

Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and created the NLRB decades ago specifically to encourage workers to form unions. It wanted to capitalize on the power of collective bargaining to forge a stronger middle class and give ordinary Americans a share in the nation's prosperity.

Robb and the previous board subverted those ends to give corporations the upper hand. Now, among the dozens of recent board decisions in Abruzzo's sights are those that not only threw up roadblocks intended to thwart union drives but also strip workers of power they achieve when organizing campaigns succeed.

In 2019, for example, the board issued a decision enabling employers to unilaterally change working conditions in the middle of contracts, making a mockery of the bargaining process. In another case that year, the board made it easier for corporations to kick out unions just as collective bargaining agreements expire—a time when workers especially need the stability their unions provide.

Amid the crush of devastating decisions, Simmons recalled thinking that the NLRB "is out to get me" and other workers.

Adding insult to injury, the previous board stacked the deck against workers even as a growing number—in a wide variety of fields—clamored to join unions.

The demand for representation, increasing even before COVID-19, soared during the pandemic as Americans saw how unions helped their members negotiate affordable health care, paid sick leave and workplace safety protections.

Now, Simmons anticipates that Abruzzo and the new board will level the playing field, enabling workers to once again exercise their labor rights and leverage the benefits unions provide.

But the four years before Biden took office continue to haunt him.

The unprecedented assault on workers during that period reminded Simmons of how important it is to continually press for stronger labor rights and remain vigilant for any attempt to undercut them.

It's too easy to lose what workers spent decades building.

"You can't become complacent," Simmons said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Prominent economist sends urgent warning about expiring unemployment benefits

As unemployment benefits for millions of U.S. workers expired on Labor Day, with many states suffering the worst surge of the pandemic, economist Joseph Stiglitz says it's "disturbing" federal aid was allowed to lapse. "This is going to feed into the problems posed by the Delta variant." Stiglitz also talks about whether Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell should stay in the job, saying he has done a "reasonable job" during the pandemic but has a tendency "to side with Wall Street and engage in deregulation."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Unemployment benefits for millions of U.S. workers expired on Labor Day, after President Biden declined to press the Democratic-led Congress to extend assistance, even as many states suffer their worst surge of the pandemic. An estimated 9.3 million jobless workers lost benefits, along with 26 million members of their households who relied on the income. The cutoff of aid came after the Labor Department reported the U.S. economy added just 235,000 jobs in August, a significant slowdown due largely to the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant. The unemployment rate for African Americans rose six-tenths of a percentage point in August to 8.8%.

For more, we're joined by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, Columbia University professor, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

We want to discuss a number of issues, from vaccine equity to the Federal Reserve Board, but first let's begin with these unemployment benefits ending. Joe Stiglitz, the significance of this?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, this is extraordinarily disturbing. You know, we should have passed a law that said so long as the unemployment rate remained elevated, in particular places it's very, very serious, and — we should have continued those unemployment benefits. The numbers, three-fourths of those on unemployment are going to see their benefits cut or, most of those, eliminated. And we aren't back to, really, normal. So, this is going to feed into the problems posed by the Delta variant, because that itself has slowed the economy down. As you mentioned, the unemployment — the employment numbers were not that good the last month. And now on top of that, we're going to have the problem of insufficiency of aggregate demand, because these people who are going to lose their benefits won't be able to spend.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Joe Stiglitz, what do you say to those — there have been lots of media reports in recent weeks and many Republicans, like Senator Ted Cruz, saying that employers are not able to find employees because people are preferring to stay on unemployment rather than get jobs. What's your response to this point of view?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Yeah. Well, actually, this is an area where we've been able to get real data in real time, because we've done, you might say, an experiment, because different states have reduced their benefits, cut off their benefits — a large number of conservative states have already done that — so we've been able to see what happens to employment when you cut off benefits. Do people rush back to get jobs? And were those states that cut off those benefits — did that solve their problem of a labor shortage? Answer: unambiguously, no.

It's clear the reason that people aren't going back to work is, one, they don't want to get the disease, and our workplace is often a place where people do get the disease. Secondly, we don't have adequate child care. And that means, with schools being shut down, opened up, shut down, they don't want to leave their children alone. And one of the important provisions of President Biden's program that's in the reconciliation bill is actually to address that issue. You might say it's a real supply-side issue that will help the labor supply. But cutting off unemployment benefits has a minuscule effect, estimating something like 7% of those who get cut off from benefits actually wound up with jobs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Joseph Stiglitz, I'd like to turn to another topic: the Federal Reserve Board. President Biden will soon have to decide on the new chair for the Federal Reserve Board. There have been some congressmembers, progressive members of Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, who are calling for Biden to replace the current chair, Jerome Powell, for neglecting to take on the climate crisis and weakening financial regulations. Would like to get your perspective on this, and especially not just on the issue of Powell's track record on climate change, but also the fact that he's continuing to pursue this cheap money policy that allows corporations and Wall Street to get money at low interest rates and then, of course, invest it in the stock market and continue to drive the stock market up, rather than real production or capital expenditures. Your sense of whether Jerome Powell deserves to stay?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, this is one of the really difficult decisions, because no one wants to disturb the economy as we're in the process of healing the economy. And it was a kind of decision that I was involved in more than 20 years ago when Alan Greenspan came up for reappointment under President Clinton.

Now, Powell has done a — you might say, a reasonable job in responding to the pandemic. He's not gone the way, you might say, a hard money person would, worried about inflation. But that's a low bar. Almost anybody reasonable would have taken the kinds of measures that the Federal Reserve took.

The hard questions on the macroeconomic side are: What happens when we get starting to recover? How soon do you increase interest rates? [inaudible] are you about inflation? How do you see that trade-off? And one of the things that we know is that the only time that we bring into the labor market minorities, disadvantaged people, and the only time we get wage compression is when we have a really tight labor market. And to me, it's worth risking a little inflation in order to address some of the grave inequalities in our society. And I wonder whether he will be the right person in that critical moment.

Moreover, one of the critical issues, going forward, is: Are we going to have another financial crisis like we had back in 2008? Memories are short, and a lot of people think that's ancient history, but it's not. It can come back again. And that's where his proclivity to side with Wall Street and engage in deregulation is very troublesome. The Dodd-Frank bill did not adequately deal with reregulating the financial system and, since then, the [inaudible] regulations we've had.

What we really need is strengthening regulations to deal with encouraging capital to move, as you said, into productive activities and dealing with the real risk not only of the financial excessive risk-taking that we saw in 2008, but a new set of risks that are on the horizon, and those are the climate risks. He says those are issues that Congress ought to deal with. But they are issues of financial stability. We have a repricing of fossil fuel assets, other assets that are going to be affected by climate change. It will make what happened with the subprime mortgage market look like a picnic. And what that did to our financial system is an important lesson why we have to include climate risk in any stress testing.

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