by Wade Rathke
Little Rock School teachers and their unions are being forced into Hobson’s choices all over the country about whether to return to work as politicians, parents, school officials, and every mother’s child pushes them in one direction or another. The standard line there, and everywhere, is, “Sure, I want to work, if it’s safe.” That’s really as much a question as a statement, and there’s no one who seems solid and steady enough to give a straight answer to such simple questions.
Teachers are just one example and probably not even the best example, since for many workers these decisions are personal and perilous. Go back to work, potentially at risk to family, friends, and yourself, or lose your job and income, all the while knowing you really want to get out of the house, and you actually want to go back to work.
At the table with Local 100 United Labor Unions with a national company representing 250 of our workers employed in small community homes supporting mental health and disabled consumers this week, one of the organizers had noticed that our contract language had said that workers “may” not be allowed to work in the event of sickness. We said clearly that now in the time of coronavirus we needed to get rid of the “may.” Believe it or not, there was argument about this. Who would determine whether conditions were safe, the company asked? Elsewhere the standards are determined by OSHA or DOL with no argument. We suggested Center for Disease Control standards, and the company spit back, that CDC had changed their standards 17 times over the last six months. Was that true? Who knows? Our answer was, who else? And, why not change as information increases? That’s better than OSHA which has gone into hibernation during this crisis when it comes to worker health and safety.
We’ve reached out to lawyers and the ACLU in Arkansas for our state worker members. Unless they are literally on the equivalent of house arrest, they are being forced to return to state offices to work. Workers have to reveal whether they ever leave to go to the drugstore or grocery, and if they do, “come to work!” Remember, these are workers who are actually working, just remotely. Facebook postings are being inspected to see if workers are out and about. Doctor’s notes are not deemed adequate. We’re in a fight defending workers with personal or family underlying conditions.
Unemployed? The supplements are gone and up in the air. States are whining with facts to back it up: no money, honey! There’s a work requirement in Louisiana and a four-job search requirement. The governor says for workers who have lost their jobs due to Covid, just write Covid on the line four times. Really? Is that a plan that’s going to work? With maximum payments hardly over $200 a wee*k, how and where can people make it now?
There’s an answer to these questions. These are not rhetorical questions. Here’s the answer: people want to go back to work. They want to go back to work now, if their old jobs still exist. They just don’t want to die.
Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International