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Hazardous Amazon ● USPS workers resist ● HEROES Act 2.0

Tuesday, September 29, 2020




► LIVE from the Seattle Times — Coronavirus daily news update, Sept. 29 — The latest count of COVID-19 cases in Washington totals 86,638 infections (7-day average of new infections per day: 464) and 2,100 deaths (7-day average of deaths per day: 7)

► From KING 5 — Puyallup teacher’s union raises PPE concerns as students return to class — Teachers were in the classroom on Monday without students, but the union wants to make sure all the pieces are in place to keep everyone safe, which includes making sure there is enough personal protective equipment.

► From Reuters — Meatpackers deny workers benefits for COVID-19 deaths, illnesses — JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, has denied applications for workers’ compensation benefits and has said COVID-19 infections of the employees — some of whom later died — were not work-related in denying the claims. As more Americans return to workplaces, the experience of JBS employees shows the difficulty of linking infections to employment and getting compensation for medical care and lost wages.

► From the Washington Post — Global coronavirus death toll tops 1 million as U.N. chief warns that ‘misinformation kills’ — The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic eclipsed 1 million on Monday night — a figure that carries an incalculable human cost and is almost certainly an undercount. Calling the milestone “agonizing,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said Monday that it was crucial that the international community learn from the mistakes made in the first 10 months of the pandemic. “Responsible leadership matters,” he said. “Science matters. Cooperation matters — and misinformation kills.”




► From the Seattle Times — A safety crisis inside Amazon’s warehouses — A new cache of company records obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting — including internal safety reports and weekly injury numbers from its nationwide network of fulfillment centers — shows that company officials have profoundly misled the public and lawmakers about its record on worker safety. They reveal a mounting injury crisis at Amazon warehouses, one that is especially acute at robotic facilities and during Prime week and holiday peak — one that Amazon has gone to great lengths to conceal. With weekly data from 2016 through 2019 from more than 150 Amazon warehouses, the records expose definitively the cost to workers of Amazon’s vast shipping empire — and the bald misrepresentations the company has deployed to hide its growing safety crisis.

About an hour south on Interstate 5 from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters is DuPont, and a company warehouse called BFI3. Last year, its workers experienced the highest injury rates of any Amazon fulfillment center in the country: 22 serious injuries for every 100 workers — a rate more than five times higher than the most recent industry average.

► From KING 5 — Seattle city council to vote Tuesday on setting rideshare minimum wage — Seattle city leaders plan to vote Tuesday on a new wage standard that could change the way rideshare companies, including Uber and Lyft, pay drivers. “It’s very very hard to survive somebody who has in a family like I do, to pay the bills,” said Ahmed Mohamed Mahamud. Mahamud has been an Uber and Lyft driver since 2017, and as a member of Drivers Union, he says a minimum wage is necessary.

The Stand (Sept. 16) — Drivers Union petition backs fair pay at Uber, Lyft in Seattle

► From Crosscut — As wildfires break records, firefighters face growing health risks — For decades, researchers have studied occupational health risks for cancer among structural firefighters — those who douse burning buildings. They are regularly exposed to an array of chemicals: those baked into the protective clothing they wear and essential to the fire retardants that they use, and others emitted from the many materials that can light up, such as couches, TVs and Barbie Dolls. That makes them vulnerable to respiratory, digestive and urinary cancers, and twice as likely as the average American to get mesothelioma, an aggressive and rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure.




► From the Yakima H-R — Union asks state for rules to protect farmworkers during wildfire smoke — United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation have sent a request to the state Department of Labor & Industries for new rules to protect agricultural workers from smoke during wildfire season. The request comes after the union and the foundation, a nonprofit that works to advocate for and support farmworkers, did an outreach blitz to farmworkers in the Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities areas in mid-September when the area was facing unhealthy and sometimes hazardous air quality conditions due to wildfires. The organizations wrote in their letter that the “overwhelming majority” of the more than 600 workers they talked to were not wearing N-95 masks or other protective equipment. Farmworkers also reported health issues, including burning and itchy throats, eye irritation and headaches from working in smoky conditions.

The Stand (Sept. 17) — UFW Foundation steps up for WA’s essential farm workers

► From the News Tribune — Smoke again in forecast for Western Washington this week

► From the Tri-City Herald — New Washington state board looks into health needs of 10,000 Hanford workers — The state Department of Commerce was given $250,000 in state funds to administer the work of the board, as directed in legislation that also made it easier for ill workers to get state worker compensation claims approved. The board will develop recommendations on how health care needs can be met and develop indicators of progress in meeting needs.

► From the Seattle Times — Nursing homes in Washington state struggled with adequate staffing for years. Then coronavirus struck. — As COVID-19 devastated nursing homes across the state, long-standing staffing woes created a perfect storm at many facilities at a time when workers were needed most. Even though inspectors had routinely found appalling instances of time-strapped staff and patient suffering over the years, Washington state hadn’t raised its standard for adequate staffing.

► From the Seattle Times — As questions surround mail voting during the election, Washington’s experience took root over years — Washington’s experience is almost a mirror opposite of the president’s portrayal. Here, Republicans pushed early on to expand mail balloting. Voters liked mail ballots so much it eventually helped bring about the formal changeover.




► From the (Everett) Herald — Reykdal best choice to head state’s schools office (editorial endorsement) — Chris Reykdal, himself a parent of school children, has a varied resume that suits his leadership of OSPI, including a master’s degree in public administration and previous work as a history teacher, a fiscal analyst for the Senate Transportation committee, state representative and three director positions with the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Reykdal has shown himself an active and responsive steward of the state’s schools and someone who has worked toward the best interests of students. As school districts — and students and parents — look forward to a return to classrooms in coming months, voters should make sure that his leadership is there to draw upon.

► From The Hill — Trump, Biden set for high-stakes showdown — The nation is bracing for an extraordinarily ugly and personal debate Tuesday night between Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, where nothing will be off limits as Trump seeks to make up ground in a race that appears to be slipping away.

► From the Washington Post — Joe Biden for President (editorial endorsement) — In order to expel the worst president of modern times, many voters might be willing to vote for almost anybody. Fortunately, to oust Trump in 2020, voters do not have to lower their standards. The Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, is exceptionally well-qualified, by character and experience, to meet the daunting challenges that the nation will face over the coming four years.

► From the NY Times — Long-concealed records show Trump’s chronic losses and years of tax avoidance — Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made. As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.

► From the NY Times — The picture of a broken tax system (editorial) — Trump’s tax returns illustrate the profound inequities of the tax code and the shambolic state of federal enforcement.

► From the Washington Post — Postal Service workers quietly resist DeJoy’s changes with eye on election — This summer, as controversial new procedures at the U.S. Postal Service snarled the nation’s mail delivery and stirred fears of how the agency would handle the election, rank-and-file workers quietly began to resist. With the Postal Service expected to play a historic role in this year’s election, some of the agency’s 630,000 workers say they feel a responsibility to counteract cost-cutting changes from their new boss, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, that they blame for the mail slowdowns. They question whether DeJoy — a top Republican fundraiser and booster of President Trump — is politicizing the institution in service to a president who has actively tried to sow distrust of mail-in voting, insisting without evidence that it will lead to massive fraud.




► From The Hill — Democrats unveil scaled-down $2.2T coronavirus relief package — This pared-down HEROES Act — $1.2 trillion less than the original bill passed by the House last spring — includes $436 billion in emergency aid for state and local governments; $225 billion for schools and child care; an additional round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans; money to restore $600 expanded unemployment payments through January; $75 billion for testing, contact tracing and other health care efforts; billions for housing assistance; and funding to shore up the census, U.S. Postal Service and elections. HEROES Act 2.0 also includes a key provision backed by Trump and his GOP allies: $25 billion to stave off thousands of layoffs at passenger airlines, as well as $3 billion for airline contractors. The beleaguered restaurant industry would receive $120 billion in aid under the Democratic plan.

► From Roll Call — Pension negotiators restart talks with eyes on the calendar Bipartisan talks are underway for an expensive bailout of failing union pension plans as worsening finances and election concerns may have broken a monthslong logjam. Looming pension plan insolvencies in battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin have gotten lawmakers’ attention with just over a month until Election Day. And on Sept. 14, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation reported that the financial condition of its insurance backstop for failed plans has gotten much worse over the past year as pandemic-induced lower interest rates crushed projected asset values… Democrats have pushed for what would be a roughly $60 billion taxpayer rescue. Republicans instead have offered benefit cuts, insurance premium hikes and rising company contributions.

► From Politico — Thousands of aviation layoffs loom amid a dysfunctional Congress — Standalone bills to extend payroll support for aviation workers have gone nowhere in either chamber.

► From the Washington Post — Already facing its worst crisis since 9/11, airline industry set to cut more than 35,000 jobs this week — Jennie Ballesteros is on the verge of being furloughed as one of 16,300 United employees — and more than 35,000 across the airline industry — set to be out of a job come Thursday. It’s another devastating blow for an industry facing a crisis analysts say is already far worse than it experienced after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and one that has already seen employment in air transportation decline by 100,000 jobs according to one measure. The employees facing furlough will be victims of the ongoing devastation the pandemic has inflicted on airlines, but also of a Congress that says it wants to protect their jobs with billions of dollars in aid and yet has been unable to reach agreement on a bill to do so. “I feel kind of abandoned by our representatives,” said Ballesteros.

► From Roll Call — Congress looks to avert shutdown amid Supreme Court fight

► From the Washington Post — Census Bureau announces new ‘target date’ of Oct. 5 to finish 2020 Census count — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Monday night announced a “target date” of Oct. 5 to finish the 2020 Census count, just days after a federal judge blocked the government from ending it this week.

The Stand (Sept. 16) — Our census is our power. It’s not too late to BE COUNTED!




► From Politico — Black families average less than 15 percent of wealth of white families, Fed says — The average Black family had less than 15 percent of the wealth of white families in 2019, a trend that barely budged despite economic gains among minorities over the past three years, the Federal Reserve said on Monday. According to a Fed survey of consumer finances conducted every three years, the median wealth of white families was $188,200, compared with only $24,100 for Black families. Central bank economists attributed that gap to “many complex societal, governmental, and individual factors that play out over the life cycle and across generations.”

► A related story from Reuters — GM will repay $28 million to Ohio in tax incentives after closing plant

► From the Washington Post — Trump said he would bring jobs back to Ohio’s manufacturing workers. Instead, he deserted them. (by Catherine Rampell) — Not only because the poorly managed pandemic recession has destroyed 720,000 manufacturing jobs on net nationwide, including 38,000 in Ohio alone. Also because even before covid-19 broke out, Trump had deserted Ohio’s manufacturing workers. “They’ve betrayed the American worker, they’ve betrayed all those people who voted for them and supported them,” says Dave Green, the former president of the UAW Local 1112, which represented workers at a now-defunct General Motors plant in Lordstown, about an hour away from the presidential debate stage.




► From Deadline — Actors’ Equity official doubts Trump’s $70,000 in ‘Apprentice’ haircuts were tax deductible — Sandra Karas, secretary-treasurer of Actors’ Equity, was surprised Monday morning when she read The New York Times’ article about Trump’s income taxes – and the $70,000 that he reportedly wrote off as a business expense for hair styling in connection with his TV show The Apprentice. “It made me laugh when I saw it in the paper,” she said. “The first thing I thought was, ‘That’s not deductible.’”


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