Millions of workers poised to lose access to paid leave as virus spikes

U.S. lawmakers have been in a stalemate for months over another coronavirus aid package. Unions, labor law experts and members of Congress warn if Congress fails to clarify legislation to expand paid vacation policy – an outcome that is becoming increasingly likely – it could exacerbate a critical situation.

“The phasing out of this policy would put millions of workers at risk of having to make the impossible choice between their health and their paycheck and undermine our recovery efforts,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Senate Democrat for Health, Education. Labor and Pensions Committee, said POLITICO. “[W]We need to broaden this policy and extend it to more workers. “

The public health benefits of paid sick leave have been documented: states that had family access to paid sick leave experienced about 400 fewer cases of Covid-19 per day, according to researchers from Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute. The policy – which applies to many public sector employers and private companies with fewer than 500 employees – “has been a highly effective policy tool for smoothing the curve,” they conclude.

“It is absolutely necessary,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in an interview. “If you tell a worker, ‘Don’t come to work when you are sick so you don’t spread Covid, but you don’t get paid and your family won’t eat and you won’t eat pay your rent,” you demand a lot of them. “

Not only are more workers getting sick, but more schools are closing – meaning more parents are considering vacation to care for their children. The paid family and sick leave that allows workers to care for loved ones for 12 weeks “was a new level of protection that didn’t exist,” said Robert Duston, a management attorney at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

Republicans accuse House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi of sabotaging negotiations by sticking to her demands for a billion-dollar deal.

“Unfortunately for American workers, families and small businesses, Spokeswoman Pelosi has been too busy appeasing her far-right members by prioritizing a radical wish list that has nothing to do with COVID-19,” said North Carolina’s Virginia Foxx, Republican chief about the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement. She “has given up on the needs of hardworking Americans by refusing to offer a responsible COVID relief package.”

Given the troublesome business faces in the recession, some conservatives say that just expanding the Families First rules may not be feasible. Although the bill reimbursed employers for paid vacation with a tax credit, a more efficient approach would be to privatize the benefit or implement growth-enhancing tax policies.

“These programs are definitely needed, especially now during the pandemic,” said Elizabeth Hanke, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. But “paid leave is not a standard program.”

“We need to incentivize employers and make them affordable so that they can offer these programs to their workers,” she said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, who represent 1.3 million grocery stores and other workers, plan to send letters to top retail and grocery chefs demanding that their employees be granted paid sick leave. The union estimates 350 of its members, of whom 109 were grocery store workers, have died of Covid-19.

Even Families First does not cover 106 million workers according to information an estimate. After another about 27 percent of employees In the US – one of the few wealthy nations with no federal paid vacation policy – they typically don’t have access to paid sick leave provided by their employer. That number rises to half the workforce if narrowed down to the food and accommodation sectors.

Janet Wainwright, who works at a Kroger supermarket in Yorktown, Virginia, said her employer gave paid vacations to workers who tested positive. Now employees who are infected with coronavirus have to “take 14 days of vacation without pay”.

“We are forced to work because we cannot live without our work every day,” she said. “It makes us paranoid and anxious because it makes people more likely to work sick.”

Even so, there is room for optimism. President-elect Joe Biden campaigned extensively for a work-enhancing agenda that would guarantee workers 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave and seven days of paid sick leave. Colorado passed by an elective This gives employees 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave.

“We saw that … this conversation about federal paid vacation law is getting more steamy,” said Toby Malara, government adviser for the American Staffing Association. The debate on extending the Families First provisions “will lead to a deeper discussion on the implementation of a vacation bills bill that may or may not cover all outside of a pandemic.”

Nearly 9 million healthcare workers are not eligible for paid vacation among Families First. The Ministry of Labor has drafted the Act Implementing Ordinance so that doctors, nurses and domestic workers are identified. If Republicans and corporations get this benefit, they could contribute to hospital staffing shortages.

From the employer’s point of view, federal policy may be desirable as it eliminates the need to comply with multiple laws at the state and local levels, Malara said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult for [employers] dealing with what we call the patchwork of laws that cover paid sick leave. “

However, corporate and Republican support will likely depend on at least two conditions: that federal law provides for stricter local regulations and that tax credits and other benefits are provided to offset costs for employers, said Daniel Altchek, attorney at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr .

“A lot of employers … have problems,” said Altchek. “When the vacation is coupled with the tax credits, it meets the needs of employees and employers together.”

“[I]If policy makers want to expand paid sick leave or other benefits for health care workers, we also need their help in funding those benefits and in recruiting more long-term care caregivers, ”said the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living in a Declaration.

Biden has the option to at least partially extend paid vacation without the support of Congress. Labor law experts say his Department of Labor could enact regulations that expand Families First to include healthcare workers and first responders.

“These instructions can be changed pretty much immediately,” said Altchek.

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