Friday, May 22, 2020

Fatal Distractions: Get the Poors to Work!

Editors' Note:  As a public service during these parlous times, the Spy's special coronavirus coverage is, unlike testing, available to all

By Vincent Boom-Batz, M.D., Medical Editor with
Samuel Insull, Spy Finance Editor

With 95,000 dead, over 40 million unemployed, and 1,500,000 cases reported in the United States, what's the most serious problem we face?  Well, if you're the Boston Globe, it kinda depends on which story you read.  Leading their home page at this hour is the following gem:

If that doesn't just take the cake.  Those lazy workers, enjoying huge unemployment benefits (until they run out in July that is) rather that accepting the minimum wage (or in the case of tipped workers like waiters, subminimum wages) for the labor that keeps business owners happy and profitable.  The absolute nerve.

Of course, if you choose to pay for The Wall Street Journal (no link; we don't), you can read the latest from former Reagan flack and 40-year Republican apologist Peggy Noonan, who claimed that the poors really want to get back to the slaughterhouses and nursing homes but are prevented from doing so by unnamed “elites.”  By elites she doesn't mean grifting New York real estate moguls and Wall Street financial finaglers – she means people who, unlike her, think before they write.

To be fair if you actually read carefully the Globe article under the headline you might learn what's really chapping these greedy workers living large on unemployment checks, notwithstanding all the self-serving crap from employers whining that $13 an hour doesn't buy workers the way it used to:

Sous chef Greg Breault would like to go back to Bucatino’s in Falmouth, but he’s a single father of a 4-year-old and has no child care. He’s hoping his 60-something mother, who has diabetes, will be able to take care of his son, but he worries about getting them sick.“I’m scared to death,” said Breault, 42, who is collecting about the same amount in unemployment that he makes on the job. “I don’t want my family to get exposed.”

So these workers are worried about not exposing themselves, their children, and their parents to a lethal virus that will have claimed 100,000 Americans by next week?  That's a little different from the picture of lazy idlers living large next to their welfare Cadillacs.

Could it be because their prospective employers are putting their own wallets and the whims of their customers ahead of worker safety?  It could!  We know that wearing masks and distancing are the two key steps to limiting the spread of the virus.  Are these employers willing to insist on no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service? And htf will those customers eat while wearing masks?  Will workers be kept six feet apart in restaurant kitchens?  Inquiring readers (and workers) would like to know but somehow the Globe didn't think to ask these questions.

In fairness to the Globe, there's a fair amount of cognitive dissonance it generates, because on the same home page you can read another article about a different bunch of folks who apparently aren't cashing those sweet unemployment checks:

According to the Globe story,

In March, as the pandemic began to grind the economy to a halt, the Greater Boston Food Bank saw its highest monthly demand for food in its 40-year history and distributed more than 8.1 million pounds of food to pantries and other partners in Eastern Massachusetts. 

But in April, the demand grew even higher: The food bank distributed 9.5 million pounds of food. Such demand is playing out statewide, as the number of families and individuals served in March by the state’s food pantries was up 46 percent from a year earlier. 

Another sobering statistic: In Massachusetts, the rate of applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has risen 360 percent since the pandemic began. And those numbers apply only to residents who are qualified. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 8 percent of Massachusetts residents are noncitizens and therefore do not qualify for traditional safety net programs like SNAP.

So according to Cape Cod employers, workers are sitting around lighting their bongs with sawbucks, but in reality, in Boston and lower-income communities like Chelsea and Brockton, the poor and desperate are slowly starving.

The confusion that reigns on the Globe's home page is but a reflection of the national insanity caused by a corrupt and clueless administration desperate to force terrified workers back to their jobs without instituting the tracing and testing regimes and other protective measures that workers in an advanced economy have a right to expect.

How do we know this?  We read it in the Globe, yesterday!  Here's the Globe's formidable Yvonne Abraham explaining it to even the meanest intelligence:

There’s a tale being spun by some [she means Peggy Noonan, btw – Ed.] that those who want us to go slower on reopening are elite work-from-home types who don’t understand the plight of the good working folks who desperately need to put food on the table. Leaving aside the absolute failure of a society where the only choices are risk a deadly disease or go without, polls give the lie to this effete-liberal-vs-noble-working-man framing: A large majority of Americans surveyed, including most of those who have been stood down, believe we should keep businesses closed to stop the spread of the virus.  Now those same workers are being called back to their jobs, and they’re rightly afraid.

Wouldn't you, when protection from a lethal illness depends on the kindness of your employer, rather than rigorous regulation and inspection, backed by 100% testing-and-tracing, as practiced in South Korea?   In Massachusetts, the perhaps too-trusting Ms. Abraham is willing to give Gov. Charlie Baker the benefit of the doubt:

There is plenty of good in the reopening plan Governor Charlie Baker laid out Monday (though he is calling for hair salons to reopen too soon, on which more later). It’s gradual, has built-in brakes, and lays out requirements for keeping workers and customers safe. Among other things, it requires masks and coverings for most employees, and strict cleaning practices, though labor advocates say there aren’t enough protections. Employers will have to attest that they meet the standards before they can reopen. Violators will be given small fines, and if they don’t shape up, they’ll eventually be shut down.

“There’s no real enforcement,” said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. “It passes the buck ... without any additional resources to ensure compliance.”

And that's Massachusetts.  What do you think will be done in Republican states to protect exploited workers in hotbeds of virus contagion like slaughterhouses?  Come in, Iowa!

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Safety regulators declined to inspect an Iowa pork plant after receiving a complaint alleging workers were exposed to the coronavirus in crowded conditions — a decision that critics said allowed a burgeoning outbreak to grow unabated.

An April 11 complaint to the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleged that employees at the Tyson Foods processing plant in Perry, Iowa, were spreading the virus as they worked “elbow to elbow.” The complaint asserted that social distancing wasn’t taking place in any of the production areas or the cafeteria.

Workers and regulators had reason to be alarmed. The Tyson plant in Columbus Junction had been idled days earlier due to a coronavirus outbreak that infected hundreds of workers and was rerouting some of its hogs to Perry for slaughter. Other meat plants nationwide were reporting outbreaks and closures.

But Iowa OSHA took nine days to seek a response from Tyson, and eight more to get one, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law. The agency determined April 28 that Tyson’s voluntary efforts were “satisfactory” and closed the case without inspecting the plant.

In fairness to Tyson, it's got a business to run, and its owner, named, surprisingly enough, John Tyson is down to his last $2,000,000,000.  No wonder he can't afford to fritter away his stash on keeping his workers alive and well.

Pre-pandemic Tyson plant.  We're sure
it's totally different now!

So maybe the problem is isn't lazy workers cashing unemployment checks.  Maybe the problem is really plutocrats and billionaires unwilling to invest in worker protection or to insist on a competent federal response.  Once again, Ms. Abraham, tell us who's not bearing the burden of this shambolic reopening plan:

It’s not the president, who has shown himself willing to sacrifice American lives on the altar of his reelection campaign. It’s not the cynical operators — the conservative powerhouses that brought us the fake-spontaneous Tea Party protests, the freelance Trump cultists and worse — ginning up anti-lockdown demonstrations around the country. It’s not Republicans in Congress, who have prioritized corporations over employees at every turn since this crisis began. Nor is it the corporate bigs and Wall Streeters who can safely isolate while they bay about the sputtering economy.

Speaking of billionaire Republicans, the Globe recently breathlessly lauded the kindness of the paper's second-favorite tycoon, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is auctioning off a Super Bowl ring and will donate the proceeds to charities that feed the hungry.  Right now, the bidding is over $1 million.

Also right now, Washington Republicans are stalling a vitally needed $3,000,000,000,000 relief bill so that state and local governments and other employers, including the Post Office, don't have to make massive cuts that would lead to millions more unemployed and left without the wherewithal to buy, or the machinery to access, stuff like . . . food.

So far the many-ringed Robert Kraft hasn't called up his friend, President Tiny Toadstool, and told him to get this law passed, but a million a day here and a million a day there and pretty soon you've raised the needed funds from charitable plutocrats like the Bobster, if by “pretty soon;” you mean 3 million days, or a mere 8,219 years.  So if you're waiting for Republicans to demand effective action to relieve the crushing pain their President has caused, don't hold your breath.  

But do wear a mask.

UPDATE, May 26: “Over the past month, the number of infections tied to three of the country’s biggest meat processors — Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS — has gone from just over 3,000 to more than 11,000, according to the Post analysis.”  – The Washington Post, May 26, 2020.

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