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COVID-19 & Working People

Coronavirus: COVID-19 is dominating the news with reports of multiple cases in Oregon, as well as panic while people stock up on supplies for fear of a wide-scale spread of the virus in our region. The Center for Disease Control urges diligence, preparation, and keeping calm as the situation develops. To help Oregon’s workers prepare, we have compiled resources for COVID-19 and we’ll continue to provide updates and resources as they are available:


RESOURCES FOR OREGON WORKERS


RESOURCES FOR FRONTLINE WORKERS AT RISK


“Oregon’s Union Movement is beyond grateful for the sacrifice and diligence of first responders, healthcare workers, school employees and educators, and everyone else whose job requires heightened exposure,” says Oregon AFL-CIO President Graham Trainor. “In times of crisis, these workers go above and beyond to ensure our communities are as safe as possible. It’s more than commendable and we will fight to ensure each worker who faces higher exposure risk is supported and protected by every workplace safety measure available.”


Unions are stepping up to provide resources for members who face higher exposure risks:

WORKER PROTECTION LAWS FALL SHORT


The spread of COVID-19 has people worried, which is understandable. After all, the laws in our country do not adequately protect some of our most vulnerable from being exposed to this and other sorts of infectious diseases. A concerning example of how the law falls short is “gig economy” workers – the folks who drive for companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Grubhub, and other app-based corporations. These workers are almost all misclassified as independent contractors and therefore are not protected by employment law. That means no paid time off or medical leave, among many other shortcomings. As the Washington Post reports, gig workers are very likely to face a higher risk of infection:

“With the gig economy specifically, it’s full of low-income, independent contractors who don’t have very good health insurance,” said Alex Rosenblat, the author of “Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work” and research lead for the nonprofit organization Data & Society. “They’re not going to have better protections than anyone else, but they may have higher risk.”

With workers opting to telecommute to lower the risk of infection, it’s reasonable to assume more people will also order-in meals, groceries, and other goods to avoid exposure to COVID-19. That means higher exposure risk for the workers driving on their behalf. And it’s more than just workers driving for Uber and other “gig” companies: low-wage workers are also at a greater risk of exposure as well. Restaurants, childcare, construction, and other industries often don’t permit the kind of flexibility required to work from home or take a sick day:

Stay home from work if you get sick. See a doctor. Use a separate bathroom from the people you live with. Prepare for schools to close, and to work from home. These are measures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended to slow a coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Yet these are much easier to do for certain people — in particular, high-earning professionals. Service industry workers, like those in restaurants, retail, childcare and the gig economy, are much less likely to have paid sick days, the ability to work remotely or employer-provided health insurance.

Protecting people from dangerous diseases is only as effective as the laws governing employment status, paid sick leave, and family medical leave. In Oregon, we have made some much-needed advances in such protections through statewide paid sick days and paid family medical leave laws, but this latest disease scare reminds us that we still have far to go to protect all working people in times of a health crisis. For example, the state’s paid sick days law only provides for 40 hours of paid leave, that’s wholly insufficient to meet the needs of working families dealing with COVID-19. Paid sick leave needs to provide more paid time for more workers, including those classified as independent contractors. Oregon’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program won’t be functional until 2021 so in the meantime, only workers in large employers have access to unpaid protected time under the Oregon Family Leave Act and the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.


COVID-19 is another example of Oregon’s workplace protection laws not meeting the needs of working people and families.

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