Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.
The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.
The first Labor Day occurred in 1882 in New York City under the direction of that city’s Central Labor Union.
In the 1800s, unions covered only a small fraction of workers and were balkanized and relatively weak. The goal of organizations like the Central Labor Union and more modern-day counterparts like the AFL-CIO was to bring many small unions together to achieve a critical mass and power. The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interests.
However, the organizers had a large problem: No government or company recognized the first Monday in September as a day off work. The issue was solved temporarily by declaring a one-day strike in the city. All striking workers were expected to march in a parade and then eat and drink at a giant picnic afterwards.
The New York Tribune’s reporter covering the event felt the entire day was like one long political barbecue, with “rather dull speeches.”
Labor Day came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job.
In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week.
These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the workweek to just six days.
These early organizers clearly won since the most recent data show that the average person working in manufacturing is employed for a bit over 40 hours a week and most people work only five days a week.
Surprisingly, many politicians and business owners were actually in favor of giving workers more time off. That’s because workers who had no free time were not able to spend their wages on traveling, entertainment or dining out.
As the U.S. economy expanded beyond farming and basic manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became important for businesses to find consumers interested in buying the products and services being produced in ever greater amounts. Shortening the work week was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.
The common misconception is that since Labor Day is a national holiday, everyone gets the day off. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While the first Labor Day was created by striking, the idea of a special holiday for workers was easy for politicians to support. It was easy because proclaiming a holiday, like Mother’s Day, costs legislators nothing and benefits them by currying favor with voters. In 1887, Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey all declared a special legal holiday in September to celebrate workers.
Within 12 years, half the states in the country recognized Labor Day as a holiday. It became a national holiday in June 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day bill into law. While most people interpreted this as recognizing the day as a national vacation, Congress’ proclamation covers only federal employees. It is up to each state to declare its own legal holidays.
Moreover, proclaiming any day an official holiday means little, as an official holiday does not require private employers and even some government agencies to give their workers the day off. Many stores are open on Labor Day. Essential government services in protection and transportation continue to function, and even less essential programs like national parks are open. Because not everyone is given time off on Labor Day, union workers as recently as the 1930s were being urged to stage one-day strikes if their employer refused to give them the day off.
In the president’s annual Labor Day declaration last year, Obama encouraged Americans “to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the contributions and resilience of working Americans.”
The proclamation, however, does not officially declare that anyone gets time off.
Today most people in the U.S. think of Labor Day as a noncontroversial holiday.
The first controversy that people fought over was how militant workers should act on a day designed to honor workers. Communist, Marxist and socialist members of the trade union movement supported May 1 as an international day of demonstrations, street protests and even violence, which continues even today.
More moderate trade union members, however, advocated for a September Labor Day of parades and picnics. In the U.S., picnics, instead of street protests, won the day.
There is also dispute over who suggested the idea. The earliest history from the mid-1930s credits Peter J. McGuire, who founded the New York City Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, in 1881 with suggesting a date that would fall “nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving” that “would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
Later scholarship from the early 1970s makes an excellent case that Matthew Maguire, a representative from the Machinists Union, actually was the founder of Labor Day. However, because Matthew Maguire was seen as too radical, the more moderate Peter McGuire was given the credit.
Who actually came up with the idea will likely never be known, but you can vote online here to express your view.
Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.
The original holiday was meant to handle a problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for highly skilled white-collar workers, many of whom are constantly connected to work.
If you work all the time and never really take a vacation, start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of Labor Day. Give yourself the day off. Don’t go in to work. Shut off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then go to a barbecue, like the original participants did over a century ago, and celebrate having at least one day off from work during the year!
When COVID-19 cases swelled in New York and other northern states this spring, Erik Andrews, a rapid response nurse at Riverside Community Hospital in southern California, thought his hospital should have enough time to prepare for the worst.
Instead, he said his hospital faced staffing cuts and a lack of adequate personal protective equipment that led around 600 of its nurses to strike for 10 days starting in late June, just before negotiating a new contract with the hospital and its owner, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare.
“To feel like you were just put out there on the front lines with as minimal support necessary was incredibly disheartening,” Andrews said. Two employees at RCH have died from COVID-19, according to SEIU Local 121RN, the union representing them.
A spokesperson for HCA told Healthcare Dive the “strike has very little to do with the best interest of their members and everything to do with contract negotiations.”
Across the country, the pandemic is exacerbating labor tensions with nurses and other healthcare workers, leading to a string of disputes around what health systems are doing to keep front-line staff safe. The workers’ main concerns are adequate staffing and PPE. Ongoing or upcoming contract negotiations could boost their leverage.
But many of the systems that employ these workers are themselves stressed in a number of ways, above all financially, after months of delayed elective procedures and depleted volumes. Many have instituted furloughs and layoffs or other workforce reduction measures.
Striking a balance between doing union action at hospitals and continuing care for patients could be an ongoing challenge, Patricia Campos-Medina, co-director of New York State AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute.
“The nurses association has been very active since the beginning of the crisis, demanding PPE and doing internal activities in their hospitals demanding proper procedures,” Campos-Medina said. “They are front-line workers, so they have to be thoughtful in how they continue to provide care but also protect themselves and their patients.”
At Prime Healthcare’s Encino Hospital Medical Center, just outside Los Angeles, medical staff voted to unionize July 5, a week after the hospital laid off about half of its staff, including its entire clinical lab team, according to SEIU Local 121RN, which now represents those workers.
One of the first things the newly formed union will fight is “the unjust layoffs of their colleagues,” it said in a statement.
A Prime Healthcare spokesperson told Healthcare Dive 25 positions were cut. “These Encino positions were not part of front-line care and involved departments such as HR, food services, and lab services,” the system said.
Hospital service workers elsewhere who already have bargaining rights are also bringing attention to what they deem as staffing and safety issues.
In Chicago, workers at Loretto Hospital voted to authorize a strike Thursday. Those workers include patient care technicians, emergency room technicians, mental health staff and dietary and housekeeping staff, according to SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the union that represents them. They’ve been bargaining with hospital management for a new contract since December and plan to go on strike July 20.
Loretto Hospital is a safety-net facility, catering primarily to “Black and Brown West Side communities plagued with disproportionate numbers of COVID illnesses and deaths in recent months,” the union said.
The “Strike For Black Lives” is in response to “management’s failure to bargain in good faith on critical issues impacting the safety and well-being of both workers and patients — including poverty level wages and short staffing,” according to the union.
A Loretto spokesperson told Healthcare Dive the system is hopeful that continuing negotiations will bring an agreement, though it’s “planning as if a strike is eminent and considering the best options to continue to provide healthcare services to our community.”
Meanwhile in Joliet, Illinois, more than 700 nurses at Amita St. Joseph Medical Center went on strike July 4.
The Illinois Nurses Association which represents Amita nurses, cited ongoing concerns about staff and patient safety during the pandemic, namely adequate PPE, nurse-to-patient ratios and sick pay, they want addressed in the next contract. They are currently bargaining for a new one, and said negotiations stalled. The duration of the strike is still unclear.
However, a hospital spokesperson told Healthcare Dive, “Negotiations have been ongoing with proposals and counter proposals exchanged.”
The hospital’s most recent proposal “was not accepted, but negotiations will continue,” the system said.
INA is also upset with Amita’s recruitment of out-of-state nurses to replace striking ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It sent a letter to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, asserting the hospital used “emergency permits that are intended only for responding to the pandemic for purposes of aiding the hospital in a labor dispute.”
Amazon is looking to hire two people who can focus on keeping tabs on labor activists within the company.
Amazon is looking to hire two intelligence analysts to track “labor organizing threats” within the company.
The company recently posted two job listings for analysts that can keep an eye on sensitive and confidential topics “including labor organizing threats against the company.” Amazon is looking to hire an “Intelligence Analyst” and a “Sr Intelligence Analyst” for its Global Security Operations’ (GSO) Global Intelligence Program (GIP), the team that’s responsible for physical and corporate security operations such as insider threats and industrial espionage.
The job ads list several kinds of threats, such as “protests, geopolitical crises, conflicts impacting operations,” but focuses on “organized labor” in particular, mentioning it three times in one of the listings.
Amazon has historically been hostile to workers attempting to form a union or organize any kind of collective action. Last year, an Amazon spokesperson accused unions of exploiting Prime Day “to raise awareness to their cause” and increase membership dues. Earlier this year, the company fired Christian Smalls, a Black employee who led a protest at a fulfillment center in New York over Amazon’s inadequate safety measures in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a meeting with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, company executives discussed plans to smear Smalls calling him “not smart, or articulate.”
These job listings show Amazon sees labor organizing as one of the biggest threats to its existence.
Do you work at Amazon, did you used to, or do you know anything else about the company? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, on Wickr at lorenzofb, OTR chat at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email email@example.com.
After this story was published, Amazon deleted the job listings and company spokesperson Maria Boschetti said in an email that “the job post was not an accurate description of the role— it was made in error and has since been corrected.” The spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions about the alleged mistake. The job listing, according to Amazon’s own job portal, had been up since January 6, 2020.
Dania Rajendra, the Director of the Athena Coalition, an alliance of dozens of grassroots labor groups that organize amazon workers, criticized the listing.
“Workers, especially Black workers, have been telling us all for months that Amazon is targeting them for speaking out. This job description is proof that Amazon intends to continue on this course,” Rajendra told Motherboard in a statement. “The public deserves to know whether Amazon will continue to fill these positions, even if they’re no longer publicly posted.”
On Monday, the Open Markets Institute, a nonprofit that studies monopolies, published a report on Amazon’s employee surveillance efforts, claiming that these practices “create a harsh and dehumanizing working environment that produces a constant state of fear, as well as physical and mental anguish.”
After a week of the jobs being posted online, 71 people have applied to the Intelligence Analyst position, and 24 people to the Sr Intelligence Analyst job, according to Linkedin. The first job was posted in the Amazon Jobs portal in January, the second job on July 21, according to the company’s site.
UPDATE Sept. 1, 12:04 p.m. ET: Shortly after this story was published, Amazon removed the listings from its job portal.
Teachers unions are waging court fights across the country aimed at unwinding what they say are unsafe and politically motivated timetables for reopening schools that risk exposing personnel to the coronavirus pandemic.
State officials eager to ramp up brick-and-mortar operations are facing lawsuits from Florida to Texas to Iowa over reopening plans as well as access to the COVID-19 infection data needed to monitor the rate of spread within school communities.
At the same time, lawsuits are flying from the opposition direction: Parents in several states, including New York, Massachusetts and Oregon, dissatisfied with web-based teaching alternatives, are suing to force state officials to reopen physical schools sooner as courts are increasingly called upon to referee the fight over education in the age of coronavirus.
“A legal storm is brewing as safety and social distancing requirements for a physical return to school begin to take shape around the country,” Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, wrote on the education website The 74.
As millions of students prepare for the first day of school — whether in-person, remote or a hybrid of the two — the fight over the reopening physical school buildings is likely to intensify.
The debate over in-person K-12 instruction planning is inseparably tied to the issues of child care needs and parents’ ability to return to the workforce to help revive the struggling economy, all of which is playing out against the backdrop of a fast-approaching November election in a country that has seen nearly 6 million cases and more than 181,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Perhaps the highest-profile legal battle is taking place in the courts of Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off last month on an emergency order over school reopenings.
Under the order, most Florida school districts would be required to hold in-person classes five days a week by the end of August or risk losing funding. President Trump, who counts DeSantis as a close ally, has also threatened to cut off federal funding for schools if they do not resume in-person learning this fall.
The Florida policy prompted a lawsuit from the Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide teachers union, and several other plaintiffs in favor of a more cautious return to in-person teaching.
“Public schools are not designed for COVID safety, and indeed, the government has recognized that they are high-contact environments,” said Kendall Coffey, the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the Florida case, who likened prematurely opened schools to “disease factories” and called the Florida policy “financial bullying.”
“There are any number of issues, in terms of hallway sizes, the flow of students in and out of classrooms, ventilation, even how many students go into the bathroom,” he told The Hill. “There are many elements that are virtually impossible to guarantee when you’re dealing with children in large amounts.”
On Aug. 24, a Florida judge ruled in favor of the union and temporarily halted the statewide order. In his decision, Judge Charles Dodson struck down the order’s unconstitutional provisions and blasted DeSantis for having “essentially ignored” the state’s constitutional requirement that schools be operated safely.
“The districts have no meaningful alternative,” wrote Dodson, of Leon County. “If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught.”
A Florida appeals court agreed to temporarily halt Judge Dodson’s order from taking effect while DeSantis appeals.
The state contends that the benefit of in-person instruction outweighs the health risks associated with reopening brick-and-mortar schools. Some Florida school officials have also declined to disclose incidents of positive COVID-19 cases to school communities, citing the need for patient privacy.
Attorneys for Florida have also argued in hearings that courts should not substitute their judgment for that of policymakers who have balanced all the equities and decided a prompt in-person reopening is the best policy.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the largest teachers unions in the country, said Florida has its priorities backward.
“What their arguments show is that they don’t care about human life,” Weingarten told The Hill.
According to Weingarten, internal AFT polling in June showed that about 3 in 4 teachers said they would be comfortable returning to the classroom if guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were implemented in schools.
But she predicts that attitudes among teachers have shifted dramatically in past months as the Trump administration has failed to adequately manage the virus to ensure schools can be reopened safely.
“We’re polling right now,” she said. “And my hunch is that just like the public polls, it’s totally flipped.”
The AFT is backing lawsuits in Florida, New Mexico and Texas. Before schools can reopen safely — for what Weingarten calls “the biggest move indoors that the nation has done since March” — the group says local positivity rates should be below 3 percent and schools should have visibility into daily transmission rates.
The union is also pushing for protocols that involve testing, contact tracing and isolation and implement best practices from the CDC for things such as ventilation, cleaning, physical distancing, mask-wearing and other safeguards.
As teachers unions make their case in court, parents in at least five states have filed lawsuits of their own to accelerate school reopenings.
A nonprofit litigation group called the Center for American Liberty, co-founded by lawyer and GOP official Harmeet Dhillon, is backing one such suit in California. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on in-person school openings in the Golden State will affect an estimated 80 percent of K-12 students.
“The effects of this ham-handed policy are as predictable as they are tragic,” the lawsuit filed in a federal court in California states. “Hundreds of thousands of students will essentially drop out of school, whether because they lack the technological resources to engage with ‘online learning’ or because their parents cannot assist them.”
The litigation raises concerns about everything from school closures exacerbating the achievement gap and disproportionately harming special needs students and those without convenient internet access to challenges over the constitutional validity of government health orders.
Weingarten, of AFT, said it’s important to remember that despite seemingly irreconcilable differences over the policy details, all parties want to see schools reopen as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“None of us believes that remote is a substitute,” she said. “It’s a supplement.”
ABOUT THE UNITES STATES OF CARE
United States of Care is a nonpartisan nonprofit working to ensure every person in America has access to
quality, affordable health care regardless of health status, social need or income. USofCare works with elected
officials and other state partners across the country by connecting with our extensive health care expert
network and other state leaders; providing technical policy assistance; and providing strategic communications
and political support. Contact USofCare at firstname.lastname@example.org
Health care remains one of the most important problems facing America.
Voters are concerned about access to and the cost for health care and insurance.
Health Care During the COVID Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the need for effective solutions that address both the immediate
challenges and the long-term gaps in our health care systems to ensure people can access quality health care
they can afford. Americans are feeling a mix of emotions related to the pandemic, and those emotions are
In addition, the pandemic has illuminated deficiencies of our health care system.
People feel that the U.S. was caught unprepared to handle the pandemic and our losses have
been greater than those of other countries.
People blame government for the inadequate pandemic response, not health care systems.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the need for effective solutions that address both the immediate challenges and the long-term gaps in our health care systems to ensure people can access quality health care they can afford. In the wake of COVID, policymakers have a critical opportunity to enact solutions to meet their constituents’ short- and long-term health care needs. The 2020 Health Care Legislative Candidate Guide provides candidates with public opinion data, state-specific health care information, key messages and ideas for your health care platform.
Promising State Policies to Respond to People’s Health Care Needs
In the wake of COVID, policymakers have a critical opportunity to enact solutions to meet their constituents’
short- and long-term health care needs. Shared needs and expectations are emerging in response to the
pandemic, including the desire for solutions that:
Ensure individuals are able to provide for themselves and their loved ones, especially those worried about
the financial impact of the pandemic.
• Protect against high out-of-pocket costs.
• Expand access to telehealth services for people who prefer it to improve access to care.
• Extend Medicaid coverage for new moms to remove financial barriers to care to support healthier moms
Ensure a reliable health care system that is fully resourced to support essential workers and available when
it is needed, both now and after the pandemic.
• Ensure safe workplaces for front-line health care workers and essential workers and increase the capacity to
maintain a quality health care workforce.
• Support hospitals and other health care providers, particularly those in rural or distressed areas.
• Expand mental health services and community workforce to meet increased need.
Ensure a health care system that cares for everyone, including people who are vulnerable and those who
were already struggling before the pandemic hit.
• Adopt an integrated approach to people’s overall health by coordinating people’s physical health, behavioral health
and social service needs.
• Establish coordinated data collection to quickly address needs and gaps in care, especially in vulnerable
Provide accurate information and clear recommendations on the virus and how to stay healthy and safe.
• Build and maintain capacity for detailed and effective testing and surveillance of the virus.
• Resource and implement contact tracing by utilizing existing programs in state health departments, pursuing
public-private partnerships, or app-based solutions while also ensuring strong privacy protections.
BY THE NUMBERS
The pandemic is showing different impacts for people across the country
that point to larger challenges individuals and families are grappling.
A disproportionate number of those infected by COVID-19 are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. According to recent CDC data, 31.4% of cases and 17% of deaths are among Latino residents and 19.9% of cases and 22.4% of deaths were among Black residents.ix They make up 18.5% and 13.4% of the total population, respectively.
Seniors are at greatest risk. According to a CDC estimate on August 1, 2020, 80% of COVID-19 deaths were among patients ages 65 and older. In 2018, only 16% of Americans were in this age range.
Access to health care in rural areas has only become more challenging during the pandemic and will likely have lasting impacts on rural communities.
The economic fallout of the pandemic has caused nearly 27 million Americans to lose their employer-based health insurance. An estimated 12.7 million would be eligible for Medicaid; 8.4 million could qualify for subsidies on exchanges; leaving 5.7 million who would need to cover the cost of health insurance policies (COBRA policies averaged $7,188 for a single person to $20,576 for a family of four) or remain uninsured.
But an Office of the Inspector General report noted that a move by the Labor Department to more broadly expand how they categorize health-care providers ended up leaving far more workers without a guarantee of paid sick leave than the agency’s estimate of 9 million.
While existing federal statutes define health-care workers as doctors, someone practicing medicine or providing health-care services, the Labor Department’s exemption from paid sick leave included anyone employed at a doctor’s office, clinic, testing facility or hospital, including temporary sites. The report also found the agency also exempted companies that contract with clinics and hospitals, such as those that produce medical equipment or tests related to the coronavirus, the OIG found.
The report also suggested the Labor Department is not doing enough to enforce the paid-sick-leave provisions, as well as its existing laws on pay and overtime issues.
In an effort to be socially distant, the federal agency acknowledged it has been forgoing fact-finding, on-site investigations, where an investigator examines all aspects of whether an employer is complying with federal labor laws. Instead, the agency has been using conciliations, which are telephone-only reviews limited to looking into a single issue affecting one or a few employees, with no fact-finding.
Critics of the Labor Department’s more hands-off approach to the pandemic have seized on the report as another indication of the ways in which the Trump administration has abandoned its commitments to worker safety.
“The Inspector General’s report makes clear that the Department of Labor went out of its way to limit the number of workers who could take emergency paid leave,” Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Education Committee, said in a statement. “This absence of meaningful enforcement of our nation’s basic workplace laws creates a major risk to workers who are already vulnerable to exploitation amid record unemployment.”
Before the pandemic, limited or full on-site investigations, a more robust way the agency looked into pay and overtime issues, made up about 53 percent of its inquiries. But since March 18, only 19 percent of those inquiries have been on-site investigations.
Actions taken to enforce the sick-leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act have skewed even further away from investigations: 85 percent have been resolved through conciliations.
The agency’s Wage and Hour Division responded to the OIG’s findings, noting that they were “developing and sharing models for conducting virtual investigations,” and that they also pledged to maintain a backlog of delayed on-site investigations to be tackled when it was safer to conduct those reviews.
But critics suggest the pandemic alone is not a sufficient excuse for the drop-off in investigations, some aspects of which could be done remotely.
“These numbers just look so different than the numbers that I’m used to seeing in terms of conciliations versus investigations,” said Sharon Block, a senior Obama administration labor department official. “It really does jump out. That 85 percent is just a really big number.”
The issue about expanding who gets to opt out of offering paid sick leave has been the subject of complaints, according to the OIG report, as well as a federal lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James. That lawsuit argued that the Labor Department overstepped its authority by defining health-care providers in such broad terms, saying it could be skewed to include workers such as teaching assistants or librarians at universities, employees who work in food services or tech support at medical schools, and cashiers at hospital gift shops and cafeterias.
Judge J. Paul Oetken, of New York’s Southern District, struck down the Labor Department’s definition, as well as three other provisions last week — but confusion remains about whether his ruling applies only to employers in New York.
In an internal response to the OIG report, which predates the New York ruling, the Labor Department said that it agreed with many of the OIG’s recommendations and that it would continue to use its definition of health-care providers until the resolution of the federal lawsuit.
The Labor Department did not reply to requests for comment about whether it planned to contest the judge’s ruling, or the other findings in the report.
The inspector general pointed to other ways the department is not doing enough to adjust to the challenges of the post-outbreak world.
The OIG report said that while the agency’s Wage and Hour Division referenced the coronavirus in an operating plan in late May, it pointed out that the division “focuses more on what the agency has already accomplished rather than thinking proactively and describing how it will continue to ensure FFCRA compliance while still maintaining enforcement coverage,” the report noted.
The department did not provide any goals about the enforcement or provide any requirements for tracking and reporting the new violations created by the FFCRA.
“With the predicted surge of covid-19 cases nationwide in upcoming months as more Americans return to work and as a consequence, an anticipated increase in complaint call volume to WHD, it would be expedient of the agency to devise a detailed plan as to how it intends to address this issue,” the OIG noted.
The report is the latest to spotlight the Trump administration’s employer-friendly approach to worker safety and protections.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the part of the Labor Department that investigates and is charged with upholding worker safety, has been criticized by workers and advocates for failing to issue citations for worker safety issues during the pandemic in significant numbers. It had only issued four citations out of more than 7,900 coronavirus-related complaints, according to figures from July 21.
Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than 10% of U.S. primary care practices have been able to stabilize operations.
Nearly 9 in 10 primary care practices continue to face significant difficulties with COVID-19, including obtaining medical supplies, meeting the increasing health needs of their patients, and finding sufficient resources to remain operational, according to a recent survey of close to 600 primary care clinicians in 46 states.
Only 13% of primary care clinicians say they are adapting to a “new normal” in the protracted pandemic, the survey found.
More than four months into the pandemic and at a time when 39 states are experiencing an increase of COVID-19 cases, fewer than 4 in 10 clinicians feel confident and safe with their access to personal protective equipment, according to the survey from the Larry A. Green Center in partnership with the Primary Care Collaborative, which was conducted July 10 to July 13.
Among the primary care clinicians surveyed, 11% report that staff in their practice have quit in the last four weeks over safety concerns.
A primary care provider in Ohio said this: “The ‘I can do 4-6 weeks of this’ transition to ‘this feels like a new/permanent normal’ is crushing and demoralizing. Ways to build morale when everyone is at a computer workstation away from other staff (and patients) feels impossible.”
“In the first few months of the pandemic, the country pulled together to stop the spread of the virus, and it seemed like we were making progress. Primary care clinicians and practices were working hard, against tremendous challenges,” said Rebecca Etz, Ph.D., co-director of The Larry A. Green Center in a statement.
“But now the country is backsliding, and it’s clear that primary care doesn’t have enough strength to deal with the rising number of cases. If primary care were a COVID-19 patient, it would be flat on its back,” Etz said.
The survey conducted by the Larry A. Green Center is part of an ongoing series looking at the attitudes of primary care clinicians and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and the abilities of practices to meet patients’ needs.
Close to 40% of primary care providers report they are maxed out with mental exhaustion and 18% say they spend each week wondering if their practice or job will still be there next week.
In addition to feeling stressed, clinicians and their practices are also experiencing upheaval. The survey found that 22% of clinicians report skipped or deferred salaries, and 78% report preventive and chronic care is being deferred or delayed by patients.
Primary care clinicians report that 42% of in-person volume is down but overall contact with patients is high, while 39% report not being able to bill for the majority of work delivered, the survey found.
“Given the rapidly rising infection rates and persistent lack of PPE, more than a third of primary care clinicians are reporting feeling unsafe at the office, and 20% are cutting back on face-to-face visits while doing more remote outreach,” said Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative in a statement.
Greiner said this is a clear signal that payers must advance or retain parity for telehealth and telephonic calls.
“It also is a clarion call to move to a new payment system that doesn’t rely on face-to-face visits and that is prospective so practices can better manage patient care,” she said.
Providers say they need more support from private insurers, particularly when it comes to reimbursing for telehealth and telephone visits.
According to the survey, a primary care doctor in Illinois said, “Recently told we would not be able to conduct telephone visits due to lack of reimbursement. I work in a low-income Medicare population which has low health literacy and no technology literacy. We were 80% telephone and 20% Zoom and in-office. This further exemplifies the extreme health care disparities in the U.S.”
Those on the front lines of the fight against the novel coronavirus worry about keeping themselves, their families and their patients safe.
That’s especially true for nurses seeking the reprieve of their hospitals returning to normal operations sometime this year. Many in the South and West are now treating ICUs full of COVID-19 patients they hoped would never arrive in their states, largely spared from spring’s first wave.
And like many other essential workers, those in healthcare are falling ill and dying from COVID-19. The total number of nurses stricken by the virus is still unclear, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 106,180 cases and 552 deaths among healthcare workers. That’s almost certainly an undercount.
National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union, told Healthcare Dive it has counted 165 nurse deaths from COVID-19 and an additional 1,060 healthcare worker deaths.
Safety concerns have ignited union activity among healthcare workers during the pandemic, and also given them an opportunity to punctuate labor issues that aren’t new, like nurse-patient ratios, adequate pay and racial equality.
At the same time, the hospitals they work for are facing some of their worst years yet financially, after months of delayed elective procedures and depleted volumes that analysts predict will continue through the year. Many have instituted furloughs and layoffs or other workforce reduction measures.
Healthcare Dive had in-depth conversations with three nurses to get a clearer picture of how they’re faring amid the once-in-a-century pandemic. Here’s what they said.
Elizabeth Lalasz has worked at John H. Stroger Hospital in Chicago for the past 10 years. Her hospital is a safety net facility, catering to those who are “Black, Latinx, the homeless, inmates,” Lalasz told Healthcare Dive. “People who don’t actually receive the kind of healthcare they should in this country.”
Data from the CDC show racial and ethnic minority groups are at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age, due to long-standing systemic health and social inequities.
CDC data reveal that Black people are five times more likely to contract the virus than white people.
This spring Lalasz treated inmates from the Cook County Jail, an epicenter in the city and also the country. “That population gradually decreased, and then we just had COVID patients, many of them Latinx families,” she said.
Once Chicago’s curve began to flatten and the hospital could take non-COVID patients, those coming in for treatment were desperately sick. They’d been delaying care for non-COVID conditions, worried a trip to the hospital could risk infection.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in May found that 48% of Americans said they or a family member had skipped or delayed medical care because of the pandemic. And 11% said the person’s condition worsened as a result of the delayed care.
When patients do come into Lalasz’s hospital, many have “chest pain, then they also have diabetes, asthma, hypertension and obesity, it just adds up,” she said.
“So now we’re also treating people who’ve been delaying care. But after the recent southern state surges, the hospital census started going down again,” she said.
Amy Arlund works the night shift at Kaiser Fresno as an ICU nurse, which she’s done for the past two decades.
She’s also on the hospital’s infection control committee, where for years she’s fought to control the spread of clostridium difficile colitis, or C. diff., in her facility. The highly infectious disease can live on surfaces outside the body for months or sometimes years.
The measures Arlund developed to control C. diff served as her litmus test, as “the top, most stringent protocols we could adhere to,” when coronavirus patients arrived at her hospital, she told Healthcare Dive.
But when COVID-19 cases surged in northern states this spring, “it’s like all those really strict isolation protocols that prior to COVID showing up would be disciplinable offenses were gone,” Arlund said.
Widespread personal protective equipment shortages at the start of the pandemic led the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to change their longstanding guidance on when to use N95 respirator masks, which have long been the industry standard when dealing with novel infectious diseases.
The CDC also issued guidance for N95 respirator reuse, an entirely new concept to nurses like Arlund who say those changes go against everything they learned in school.
“I think the biggest change is we always relied on science, and we have always relied heavily on infection control protocols to guide our practice,” Arlund said. “Now infection control is out of control, we can no longer rely on the information and resources we always have.”
The CDC says experts are still learning how the coronavirus spreads, though person-to-person transmission is most common, while the World Health Organization recently acknowledged that it wouldn’t rule out airborne transmission of the virus.
In Arlund’s ICU, she’s taken care of dozens of COVID positive patients and patients ruled out for coronavirus, she said. After a first wave in the beginning of April, cases dropped, but are now rising again.
Other changing guidance weighing heavily on nurses is how to effectively treat coronavirus patients.
“Are we doing remdesivir this week or are we going back to the hydroxychloroquine, or giving them convalescent plasma?”Arlund said. “Next week I’m going to be giving them some kind of lavender enema, who knows.”
Erik Andrews, a rapid response nurse at Riverside Community Hospital in California, has treated coronavirus patients since the pandemic started earlier this year. He likens ventilating them to diffusing a bomb.
“These types of procedures generate a lot of aerosols, you have to do everything in perfectly stepwise fashion, otherwise you’re going to endanger yourself and endanger your colleagues,” Andrews, who’s been at Riverside for the past 13 years, told Healthcare Dive.
He and about 600 other nurses at the hospital went on strike for 10 days this summer after a staffing agreement between the hospital and its owner, HCA Healthcare, and SEIU Local 121RN, the union representing RCH nurses, ended without a renewal.
The nurses said it would lead to too few nurses treating too many patients during a pandemic. Insufficient PPE and recycling of single-use PPE were also putting nurses and patients at risk, the union said, and another reason for the strike.
But rapidly changing guidance around PPE use and generally inconsistent information from public officials are now making the nurses at his hospital feel apathetic.
“Unfortunately I feel like in the past few weeks it’s gotten to the point where you have to remind people about putting on their respirator instead of face mask, so people haven’t gotten lax, but definitely kind of become desensitized compared to when we first started,” Andrews said.
With two children at home, Andrews slept in a trailer in his driveway for 12 weeks when he first started treating coronavirus patients. The trailer is still there, just in case, but after testing negative twice he felt he couldn’t spend any more time away from his family.
He still worries though, especially about his coworkers’ families. Some coworkers he’s known for over a decade, including one staff member who died from COVID-19 related complications.
“It’s people you know and you know that their families worry about them every day,” he said. “So to know that they’ve had to deal with that loss is pretty horrifying, and to know that could happen to my family too.”