Thursday, May 14, 2020
► LIVE from the Seattle Times — Coronavirus daily news update, May 14 — The most recent count of COVID-19 cases in Washington totals 17,512 infections (up 182 from yesterday) and 975 deaths (up 13), according to the state Department of Health.
► From the Yakima H-R — Ag worker strikes continue Wednesday, with walkout at Monson Fruit in Selah — Protests by Yakima County agricultural workers over what they consider unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 outbreak continued Wednesday, with employees walking out of the Monson Fruit Co. in Selah. More than 100 workers gathered in the company’s parking lot and outside the plant Wednesday morning, some holding cardboard signs demanding justice — “¡Demandos Justicia!” — or “Workers over Profit.” Kathy Mendoza, who has worked for the company on and off for seven years, said workers were protesting an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment, sanitizing, and social distancing inside the plant. Workers also are afraid to call in sick, fearing their jobs won’t be there for them when they come back, she said.
The Stand (May 13) — Solidarity is contagious right now in Yakima (by Dulce Gutiérrez) — Inspired by the ongoing Allan Brothers strike, other fruit warehouse workers are walking off the job to demand safe workplaces and hazard pay.
► From the Seattle Times — Alcoa accused of not ‘putting up a fight’ to save Ferndale aluminum plant as plans to curtail operations move ahead — Top representatives of a machinists union on Wednesday accused Alcoa of not “putting up a fight” to save roughly 700 jobs at the company’s Ferndale aluminum smelter. Alcoa announced last month it would curtail operations there by late July. Since then, local lawmakers and the IAM have written Alcoa and the Trump administration asking they explore ideas to maintain a plant that has operated since 1966. But Alcoa CEO Roy Harvey wrote the union Tuesday night that curtailment plans are moving forward… “We want to work with Alcoa to make the company competitive,’’ said IAM Legislative Director Hasan Solomon. “We just respectfully ask Alcoa to sit down with us to do that. And then, after we’ve exhausted every measure … we can move to those next steps as far as curtailment. But I wouldn’t jump to the next dance without at least sitting down with all the stakeholders and trying to find some solutions.’’
► From Kaiser Health News — UW hospital workers complain of minimal disclosure after COVID exposures — From cafeteria staff to doctors and nurses, hospital workers around the country report frustrating failures by management to notify them when they have been exposed to co-workers or patients known to be infected with COVID-19.
► From the Tri-City Herald — Hanford strategy for worst nuclear waste criticized. Plant estimates skyrocket to $41 billion — The Department of Energy’s strategy for pretreating high-level waste at Hanford is “unclear” 20 years after construction of a massive glassification plant began, while costs continue to soar, says a new federal report.
► From the NW Labor Press — Teamsters strike Hood River Distillers — Twenty-five workers at Hood River Distillers (HRD)—members of Teamsters Local 670—went on strike May 6 after their employer, during the COVID-19 pandemic, implemented its own final offer that alters health insurance benefits and provides paltry wage increases.
► From the Seattle Times — Washington adds more than 116,000 unemployment claims even as state reopens from coronavirus — Washington workers filed more than 116,000 initial weekly claims for unemployment insurance — an increase from the previous week and a clear reminder that the job market may lag behind the state’s efforts to emerge from the coronavirus shutdown.
► From the AP — Inslee orders hiring freeze, agencies prepare for 15 % cuts — Facing a reduction in projected state revenues of billions due to the coronavirus crisis, Gov Jay Inslee on Wednesday issued a directive freezing most hiring and signing of personal services contracts and purchasing of equipment, and the the state’s budget office sent a letter to state agencies telling them to find ways to cut 15 percent from their current budgets.
► From the Seattle Times — Inslee eyes budget cuts as coronavirus slowdown hits revenue — If 15% cuts are ultimately enacted by the Legislature, the state agencies handling Washington’s most vulnerable residents could be hit the hardest. DSHS could suffer $506 million in cuts in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The single biggest reduction at DSHS would come from the agency that oversees long-term care facilities like nursing homes, which have been hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks. The Department of Corrections could see $181 million disappear. The state Department of Children, Youth, and Families — which was sending troubled foster youth out of state or putting them in hotels because of funding issues — could lose $155 million.
► In today’s Seattle Times — Bunk beds for farmworkers approved by Washington state despite coronavirus risks — Fruit growers prevailed over unions Wednesday as Washington state issued regulations intended to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus. Unions wanted the state to ban the use of bunk beds in housing that growers provide for as many as 30,000 temporary laborers who work in the state each summer. State officials acknowledged that bunks could increase the risk of contagion because they pack more worked together in tight quarters. But growers argued that a loss of the top beds would leave half their workers without housing and wreck the state’s $4.5 billion fruit industry. In the final rules issued Wednesday, state health and labor agencies relented, letting growers keep the bunk beds — with some conditions.
► From the Spokesman-Review — Spokane Public Schools defers decision about financial emergency, awaits clarity about state budget
► From the (Everett) Herald — As Robinson moves to the Senate, Wicks gets a House seat — Democratic state Rep. June Robinson became a state senator Wednesday after the Snohomish County Council unanimously chose her to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of John McCoy. The council then appointed Emily Wicks of Everett to replace Robinson in the House.
► From Politico — State, local governments slash services as demand rises — Calls to 911 are up, domestic violence cases have surged, and trash collectors are struggling to keep up with ever-higher piles of garbage. But the states, counties and cities that pay workers to address these and other crises generated by the coronavirus pandemic are readying budget cuts so severe that these services risk being cut back. Covid-19 budget cuts have already resulted in 935 layoffs or furloughs nationwide for fire department employees, according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs, with as many as 30,000 additional layoffs projected this year and next… Now House Democrats are preparing to vote Friday on a $3 trillion coronavirus bill that includes at least $915 billion in aid to state and local governments on top of the $150 billion included in the last one.
► From the Washington Post — Congress is posturing over the next coronavirus relief package. Meanwhile, the economy is sinking. (editorial) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) initial reaction to the Democrats’ HEROES Act was to denounce the House bill and double down on his demand for lawsuit protection. Republicans should start talking in earnest, sooner rather than later. The country’s needs are too urgent to withstand much more partisan posturing.
► From the NY Times — As unemployment soars, lawmakers push to cover workers’ wages — Progressive and conservative lawmakers are increasingly pushing for the government to guarantee workers’ incomes, signaling how profoundly the economic debate has shifted during the pandemic.
► From The Hill — More Americans give Trump poor marks on handling coronavirus — The CBS News poll found that 57 percent of respondents said they believe Trump is doing a bad job handling the virus. The findings represent a 5-point dip in support for the president from April and a loss of 10 points since March.
► From CNBC — FBI seizes Senate Intel chairman Richard Burr’s cellphone amid probe of coronavirus stock sales — The seizure of Burr’s phone represents a new phase in a federal investigation into Burr’s sale on Feb. 13 of stock worth $630,000 to $1.7 million after he was given access to classified intelligence reports that contained dire warnings about the coronavirus.
► BREAKING from Politico — Appeals court greenlights emoluments suit against Trump — A lawsuit accusing Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his luxury Washington hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump’s profits, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
► From the Seattle Times — Amazon says coronavirus pay raises for warehouse workers will end after May 30 — “Two weeks of extra pay isn’t close to what we need,” Monica Moody, an Amazon warehouse worker in Charlotte, N.C. “At a minimum, hazard pay should be extended for the entire length of this pandemic. If we are putting our lives at risk to pack and deliver Amazon packages, we deserve to be paid for it.”
► From the NY Post — Jeff Bezos could become world’s first trillionaire by 2026 — Bezos, who owns an 11 percent stake in Amazon, has been the world’s richest person since 2017. If his net worth does reach $1 trillion, he’d be worth more than the individual GDPs of 179 countries with a combined population of 3.4 billion — 43.7 percent of all humans alive.
► From Vox — The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority strikes down state stay-home order — Republicans on the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a broad order striking down that state’s stay-at-home order, which was issued by the head of the state’s health department to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Court’s order was 4-3, with Justice Daniel Kelly, a lame duck who recently lost an election to retain his seat by nearly 11 points, casting the key fourth vote to strike down the stay-at-home order.
► From Bloomberg — Delta to retire Boeing 777 jets, sees up to $1.7 billion charge — Delta Air Lines will retire its Boeing 777 jetliners, a mainstay of its long-distance fleet, as the carrier rushes to cut costs amid the unprecedented collapse of travel demand.
The Stand posts links to Washington state and national news of interest every weekday morning by 10 a.m.