What the coronavirus bill means for employers and workers
By IAN KULLGREN
03/16/2020 10:00 AM EDT
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— The House passed a sweeping coronavirus response package that would give workers more than three months of paid sick leave.
— Employers are beginning to suffer as the pandemic halts the American economy.
— Former Vice President Joe Biden earned an endorsement from the National Education Association ahead of four major primaries this week.
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DRIVING THE DAY
WHAT THE CORONAVIRUS BILL MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS AND WORKERS: The House on Saturday passed a sweeping coronavirus response bill that would give covered workers up to 14 weeks of paid sick leave. We combed through the text and talked to experts ahead of the Senate vote.
How it would work: The bill includes two types of paid leave: 10 fully paid sick days for full-time workers and up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave under an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act. For the first 10 days, businesses must give workers 100 percent of their normal pay if they’re under quarantine for coronavirus, and at least two thirds of their pay if they’re caring for family members or a child home from school. For the 12 weeks of expanded leave, all eligible workers get two thirds’ pay.
But, but, but: The bill exempts employers with 500 or more employees, meaning it wouldn’t cover about half of the U.S. workforce. That has raised the hackles of some left-leaning analysts, who say that big companies should be the most equipped to pay.
“It’s a real indication of the power that the organized business lobby, and huge industries and businesses and CEOs, have in our policymaking,” said Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow at the New America foundation.
Flanked by her security detail and aides, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives to update reporters as lawmakers continue work on a coronavirus aid package, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
In practice, though, most workers will still have some form of paid sick leave. Ninety-one percent of workers for employers with 500 or more workers already have employer-provided leave, according to the Pew Research Center, though experts note that it’s often less than what smaller businesses would have to offer under the bill. Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pointed to Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows the median amount of sick leave for large employers is just 7 days, for workers who have worked one year or more.
Of the nearly 60 million people who work for private employers with more than 500 workers, 11 percent don’t have any paid sick leave. Less than half of food service workers have paid sick leave, according to BLS — and they can’t work from home. (Some fast food companies have reportedly implemented or updated paid sick leave policies.)
Who picks up the tab?: Employers would have to front the money and then write it off on their taxes for a reimbursement, up to a per-employee limit, under the House-passed bill. That’s different from Democrats’ original plan, which called for payments to workers administered by the Social Security Administration.
Also keep in mind: The Labor Department could exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the bill’s FMLA expansion. Businesses would have to demonstrate that paying for time off up front would pose a serious threat to their viability.
The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation early this week.
More: “Here’s What’s in Congress’s Emergency Coronavirus Bill,” from the New York Times
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U.S. ECONOMY GRINDS TO A HALT: “The United States is suffering the most abrupt and widespread cessation of economic activity in its history, hurtling toward a recession that could mean lost jobs, income and wealth for millions of Americans,” David J. Lynch and Heather Long write for the Washington Post.
“Across the country, consumer spending — which supports 70 percent of the economy — is grinding to a halt as fears of the escalating coronavirus pandemic keep people from stores, restaurants, movie theaters and workplaces.
“The rapid national shutdown already has caused layoffs and reverberated on Wall Street, driving stocks into their first bear market in 11 years. Amid panic selling, unusual strains have appeared in less visible market niches that are critical to the ability of businesses to operate normally.”
BUSINESSES FEEL THE PAIN: “For weeks, forecasters have warned of the coronavirus’s potential to disrupt the American economy,” the New York Times reports. But now, the effects are being felt even in states the virus hasn’t yet reached.
One example: “Maine had not had a single diagnosed case of the virus when [inn owner Eileen] Hornor learned Wednesday that Bowdoin College, which accounts for 80 percent of her business, was calling off in-person classes and sending students home. Yet by midday the next day, she had lost 84 bookings, with more cancellations all but certain. At a somber staff meeting on Thursday, she told her 10 employees that she would try to avoid layoffs but that cuts in hours were inevitable.”
Related read: “Keeping your distance is good for public health but tough for small businesses,” from the Washington Post
THE WORKERS MOST AT RISK: Dentists, dental hygienists and oral surgeons are among the most at risk of catching coronavirus, the Times’ Lazaro Gamio reports. Gamio mapped the types of workers most frequently exposed to diseases and who work in close physical proximity to others. Flight attendants, nurses and personal care aides also face a high risk.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The National Education Association endorsed Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden Saturday. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo
BIDEN LANDS NEA ENDORSEMENT: NEA’s announcement Saturday handed Biden a prized endorsement from the nation’s largest union ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona, Ohio, Illinois and Florida, POLITICO’s Nicole Gaudiano reports.
“Lily Eskelsen García, president of the 3 million-member teachers union, praised the former vice president as a ‘tireless advocate for public education’ who understands the nation’s ‘moral responsibility to provide a great neighborhood public school for every student in every ZIP code.’”
“The union’s members traditionally serve as national convention delegates and they have a high voter turnout rate. In the last presidential election, 89 percent of registered NEA members voted, according to the union.”
REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT DIRECTOR REPLACED: The director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been replaced, Buzzfeed’s Hamed Aleaziz reports.
Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees ORR, wrote in an internal email Friday that Director Jonathan Hayes “has been promoted to serve as Senior Advisor in the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS, effective today at 6pm EST.”
“An HHS official told BuzzFeed News that Hayes had been pushed out of his role at the direction of the White House,” Aleaziz writes. “But in a statement, an HHS spokesperson said Hayes had been tapped to help with the government’s coronavirus response as senior advisor in the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
NFL PLAYERS RATIFY LABOR AGREEMENT: Pro football players narrowly agreed to ratify a collective bargaining agreement with team owners on Sunday that extends the season to 17 games, USA Today’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz reports.
The agreement, which also expands the postseason “avoids any concerns of a potential work stoppage,” Middlehurst-Schwartz writes. “Before the previous collective bargaining agreement was struck, the NFL and its players endured a four-month lockout.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
— “American workers are more vulnerable than ever to crises like the novel coronavirus,” from the Business Insider opinion page
— “The Companies Putting Profits Ahead of Public Health,” from the New York Times editorial board
— “If you own a restaurant right now, what do you do?” from the Los Angeles Times
THAT’S ALL FOR MORNING SHIFT!
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