Labor Sec Eugene Scalia Just Wants To Make Life A Little Tougher And More Dangerous For Everyone
This is a difficult time to be an American conservative. All of the things they've worked so hard to convince Americans they don't want or need are the things that are super helpful and in fact necessary at a time like this. For decades (centuries, really) they've said, "You don't need worker protections! You have the free market!" and "You don't need socialized health care! You have the free market!" and "You don't need sick leave or family leave! That would violate the freedom of job creators to decide whether or not to give that to you! What? Do you hate freedom?"
And yeah, right now we do need all of those things and the free market isn't really doing much for us. People who are worried about how they are going to manage going to work with young children who can't go to school are not sitting around being worried about how "free" their employer feels. They just want to not die. Same goes for everything else. Shockingly enough, most people just want to get through this thing alive and not economically fucked. That's the goal.
But Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, son of the late Antonin Scalia, has other ideas.
You see, Secretary Scalia has an incredibly low opinion of most Americans, and believes that if you make this situation too comfortable for us all, if you give too many people too many unemployment benefits, they will actually fuse with their couches and become "dependent" on these benefits and never want to go back to work again. You know, because people definitely aren't going a little batshit being locked inside all day, everyday, with their families, and will definitely want to keep this going forever.
So, for our own good, the Labor Department under Scalia has limited who can qualify for unemployment.
New Labor Department guidance says unemployment benefits apply to gig workers only if they are "forced to suspend operations," which could dramatically limit options for those workers if their apps are still operating. Other workers also face a high hurdle to qualify for benefits.
The guidance says a worker "may be able to return to his or her place of employment within two weeks" of quarantining, and parents forced to stop work to care for kids after schools closed are not eligible for unemployment after the school year is over. Workers who stay home because they are older or in another high-risk group are also ineligible unless they can prove a medical professional advised them to stop working.
And they've limited who can get paid family and sick leave. They've exempted companies with fewer than 50 employees from paying 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave (as larger companies are currently required to do — well, companies with between 50 and 500 employees because any larger than that and they were already exempt, don't ask us, it's bizarre) if doing so would bankrupt them, but those companies are not required to prove that in any way. They just have to say it would.
(Wonkette believes that paid family and sick leave should be paid through the unemployment system anyway, instead of expecting companies to pay their workers' salaries and their temporary replacements' salaries, but that bit of social welfare state expansion doesn't seem to have made it into any bill.)
Scalia, apparently, doesn't want workers feeling too safe, either. The Labor Department is in charge of OSHA, which regulates the safety and health conditions of workers. One would think that — being that we are in the middle of a pandemic — OSHA might require that nurses and other health care workers be given proper protective gear so that they neither die nor spread the virus. But no, no. They are not going to do that.
They're also not really interested in protecting workers in other ways, either. Like when they are retaliated against for speaking out about health risks at their places of employment.
OSHA also has not taken significant action to protect workers from retaliation when they speak out about dangerous conditions that expose them to coronavirus, [David] Michaels [a George Washington University School of Public Health professor who served as assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health in the Obama administration] said.
When workers at a manufacturing plant in northern Illinois tried alerting government officials about their concerns about working shoulder to shoulder, the regional OSHA official responded that "all OSHA can do is contact an employer and send an advisory letter outlining the recommended protective measures," according to an email reviewed by The Washington Post. "This isn't very helpful for you or your labor group, but it is the best I have to offer," the email said.
Are OSHA employees thrilled about that? Not so much. They'd like for there to be certain emergency protocols put into place, but so far all the agency is doing is sending out the occasional news release saying that retaliating against employees for these reasons is bad and would totally be illegal if they actually did feel like doing anything about it.
Clearly, Scalia doesn't want workers getting spoiled by fancy health and safety regulations, either. Otherwise, when things go back to normal, they'll expect them then, too. And then where would we be?
But the fact is, he's right to be a little scared. He should be scared. Once you give people something, it's really hard to take it away. Just look at Social Security! After this, people like him are going to have to work a little harder to convince people that if they have things like paid family leave and better unemployment benefits and better health and safety regulations at their jobs that everyone will become horrible, lazy and spoiled and it will ruin our whole way of life. Because they'll have already experienced it and found out that none of that is actually true.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse