Pandemic privacy and discrimination

by Wade Rathke

New Orleans   Businesses are madly lobbying Congress for liability protection from lawsuits by their workers. They are clear that they want their staff to return to work, but they do not want to have to vouch for their health on the job. Business must be worried that if their boy doesn’t make it back to the White House, then there might be a real Occupational Health and Safety Administration and hell to pay. Face it, for business all workers are essential. The economy doesn’t run without workers. It is an interesting irony that in a pandemic, all capitalists become Marxists when they are forced to remember that nothing works without workers. It is not paradoxical that the same business capitalists want to turn to the politicians they own in donor servitude to save them from their workers now that they are reminded, they are all critical.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) must not be equally under the grip of the White House. They issued an order recently forbidding businesses to discriminate in recalling and employing older workers over 65-years of age, fearing that these workers might be more susceptible to Covid-19, and that they would be liable. It is easy to predict that in the magical mystery tour of layoff and recall now, that few seniors may get this message and many more may be lost in the EEOC filing bureaucracy forever as they seek a callback.

Local 100 United Labor Unions represents many state employees in Arkansas. As the state determinedly tried to reopen, regardless of the spiking numbers of cases and deaths from this coronavirus, they were desperate to curtail remote workers and have them back in state offices. Toney Orr, 100 field director and Arkansas state director, shared with me the survey questions sent to state workers. The state wanted to know how they obtained groceries or prescriptions. They wanted to know when and where they went outside of their home. Where they traveled and why? You get the message. The state wanted to investigate and essentially regulate their nonwork and at home activity to build its own case for compelling them to come to the office using the information to establish that they were not quarantined in their own homes. Tell me that’s not an invasion of privacy. Where’s the ACLU? Workers with underlying conditions are facing return to office demands. What do conservative Republicans call state intervention in the personal lives of people? Overreach, right? Bad news, guys, workers have rights to privacy, too. I guess I mean, don’t they?

Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have all agreed to stop selling police facial recognition software until there are rules and regulations that govern surveillance. We need the same protection for workers now on remote work, key stroke monitoring, boss drive-bys, and especially requirements to come back to offices until they are guaranteed to meet health and safety standards.

No workers are safe in a pandemic. Neither are their bosses who must be both responsible and accountable.

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