Workers rights strategies to save lives

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Greg Casar
Posts: 134
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2015 3:20 pm

Workers rights strategies to save lives

Post by Greg Casar » Tue Apr 28, 2020 10:43 am

Mayor: Thank you for your post from yesterday, and I look forward to this discussion during today’s work session.

The Mayor’s post, and our health experts, point out a real need for increased protections and rights for workers. We need to accelerate a conversation about how sick or vulnerable workers can stay at home.

Sick Time: Due to the Attorney General’s lawsuit against Austin (and Dallas and San Antonio), and due to major gaps in recent federal legislation, large companies over 500 employees are exempt from having to provide sick time for COVID symptoms. Smaller businesses are required to provide sick time by the federal law, but these large companies are—shamefully-- exempt. We must discuss how to ensure all sick workers, especially those with COVID symptoms or those in COVID symptomatic households, stay home.

Vulnerable workers: Furthermore, workers who would face real dangers if they contract COVID-19 may be forced to go to work. These are people with underlying health conditions, workers who are older, and workers who are caring for a vulnerable person at home. If their employer refuses to allow them to telework, then those workers face an impossible choice. If they quit their jobs (or are fired because they refused to put themselves in a dangerous position), then they likely will not have access to traditional unemployment benefits. Special, pandemic unemployment benefits may be available to some of these workers who can get doctors’ orders to self-quarantine—although definitely not all vulnerable workers can get pandemic benefits.

We must find a way to give these workers the opportunity to work from home, stay at home, be trained into a telework job, or otherwise be protected. Employers must also be held accountable to not endanger these most vulnerable employees or their families. Workers must know their rights, be organized and supported to exercise those rights, and they must have access to safe options for themselves and their families.

We must accelerate this conversation about workers’ rights. We should be protecting our own employees and those of our contractors; we should be considering how to create such protections in the private workforce by rules, incentives, or programs; we should be training vulnerable workers into telework jobs; we should be supporting workers in accessing the limited pandemic benefits that do exist; and we should be considering how local funds, including CARES funds, can help make sure we prevent needless risk or deaths of these working people.

Colleagues: I am raising this issue here because it is so critical to our crisis strategy. I am ready to work with anyone, and everyone, on the dais on these sorts of solutions to save lives. I’ve asked the City Manager’s office to prioritize these issues and strategies.

-Greg
Gregorio "Greg" Casar
Council Member District 4

Natasha Harper-Madison
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2019 12:52 pm

Re: Workers rights strategies to save lives

Post by Natasha Harper-Madison » Tue Apr 28, 2020 2:59 pm

Thanks to my colleague Council Member Casar for putting specific emphasis on these critical considerations for
lower-wage earners who are under extreme economic pressure during the COVID-19 crisis.

Regarding Sick Time, I absolutely echo your sentiment. In addition to the spaces where you intend initiate the dialogue, I will look to bring the topic to all appropriate committees, cabinets, and panels I serve on, including the Health and Human Services Committee, the Economic Recovery Panel, and the Social Services cabinet.

Regarding Vulnerable Workers, again I echo your sentiment and appreciate the focus on training workers for new work-from-home
opportunities, as well as on creating more opportunities for advocacy to help workers access all eligible benefits including pandemic unemployment benefits (which I’m also very interested in exploring further). Additionally, I commit to joining your fight for elevating concerns about workers’ rights and I support you in requesting that the City Manager’s Office prioritize issues and strategies along these lines.

I appreciate your reference to the obligation employers have to maintain a safe work environment for all essential workers. I would add to
that a very specific ask that employers provide appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for employees. I look forward to working alongside you and our colleagues on solutions.


Kindly,

Natasha
Natasha Harper-Madison
Council Member District 1

Greg Casar
Posts: 134
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2015 3:20 pm

Re: Workers rights strategies to save lives

Post by Greg Casar » Tue May 12, 2020 2:46 pm

Colleagues,

I am sponsoring Item 38 on the 5/21 agenda to establish a strategy for high-risk workers to prevent COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths. I’d like to thank CMs Harper-Madison, Kitchen, and Ellis for agreeing to co-sponsor, though I know all of you share these concerns for our high-risk community members and workers.

http://austintexas.gov/department/city- ... eg.htm#038

Please do share your questions and ideas here. Like other COVID-19 related resolutions, I think we should build ideas onto this draft between here and the Council meeting.

One example of an additional element we're working on: My office is in discussion with our public health officials about ways to support more of our workers in applying for the sick time they are owed under new federal rules. We know that there are Austinites who are reluctant to take COVID tests, for fear that they will lose income if they test positive. We also need to make sure people in symptomatic households do not go to work. We need to assist those Austinites so that they do not have to choose between their health and their economic survival.

We need to make sure: (1) all working Austinites feel comfortable taking COVID tests; (2) that sick Austinites (and their households) have the opportunity to stay home with sick pay; and (3) that all Austinites are supported if they do the right thing and stay home when they have underlying conditions, are over 65, or have a high-risk member of their household.

This strategy will take effort, and it will likely require City funds to execute. It must be a key part of our public health response.


-Greg
Gregorio "Greg" Casar
Council Member District 4

Leslie Pool
Posts: 171
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:22 pm

Re: Workers rights strategies to save lives

Post by Leslie Pool » Fri May 15, 2020 8:37 am

hi Greg, thanks for bringing this resolution. Would you be open to including direction to the city manager to consider hazardous duty pay for front-line and essential City workers? I have talked with the city manager about this and asked HRD to pull an estimate together for us to review. I believe hazard pay would be eligible for CARES funding, and that total estimate could be added for additional consideration to the budget framework we recently approved. Hazard pay could be handled as a stipend for those City workers who have increased exposure due to their job duties. If this is agreeable, then I will draft an amendement to offer next week.

If you have a spot open for one more co-sponsor, I would be pleased to join.

Thanks so much.

Leslie
Leslie Pool
Council Member, District 7

Greg Casar
Posts: 134
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2015 3:20 pm

Re: Workers rights strategies to save lives

Post by Greg Casar » Tue May 19, 2020 11:53 am

Colleagues,

Please see Version 2 of Item 38: http://assets.austintexas.gov/austincou ... 114855.pdf

Also, here is the presentation I will give during work session today: http://assets.austintexas.gov/austincou ... 115006.pdf

-Greg
Gregorio "Greg" Casar
Council Member District 4

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