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California Fast-Food Workers Strike Amid Pandemic

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  • Strikes at McDonald’s locations in Los Angeles and San Jose have inspired fast-food workers all over California to strike as well.
  • On Thursday, workers are demanding that they receive gloves, masks, soaps, hand sanitizer, hazard pay, and paid sick leave if exposed to the coronavirus. 
  • According to Fight for 15, the many McDonald’s workers feel that they have not been able to properly follow social distancing guidelines at work, and have come to work sick fearing loss of income or disciplinary actions.
  • Fast-food workers all over the country feel this way, with other major cities like Memphis, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay also seeing workers strike over the past several weeks with similar demands.

Strikes in California

Fast food workers are striking throughout California on Thursday, demanding protection gear and sanitary measures to be taken as they work during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The strikes were inspired by ones that started in Los Angeles on Sunday. Workers at a McDonald’s on Crenshaw Boulevard began walkouts after one of their co-workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then, two more of the location’s employees have also tested positive. 

Employees at the location want a two week paid quarantine because they were all likely exposed to the virus. They are also asking for healthcare coverage for them and their families if they contract the virus, as well as personal protection equipment and sanitation tools.

The workers put signs on their cars, demanding that their safety be prioritized. A day after these protests began, McDonald’s workers at a San Jose location also began striking. They demanded things like hand sanitizer, masks, and other PPE. Thursday’s strikes will take place at 50 fast food restaurants all over the state, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and more. 

Concerns of Fast Food Workers

Workers are walking out and holding drive thru strikes calling for their health to be taken seriously. This protest is being organized by Fight for 15, a group that fights for workers rights. On Twitter, the Los Angeles chapter of the organization outlined their demands, which on top of PPE, included hazard pay and paid sick leave.

Fight for 15 surveyed McDonald’s employees, many of whom have concerns about working during the pandemic. As fast-food workers are considered essential and still heading out to their jobs, which involve interaction with the public during stay at home orders, many fear they are risking their health, as well as the health of others. 

These employees do not believe that they have the proper tools to protect themselves from the coronavirus. The survey showed 92% say they had limited or no access to masks. Meanwhile, 46% said the same thing about gloves, and another 41% said so of hand sanitizer. A number of employees also claimed they did not have reliable access to cleaning supplies or soap.

Limited access to PPE and sanitation is just one of the ways that workers feel they are putting their health on the line. Over 40% said it is close to impossible to practice social distancing while at work and 22% also said they have come to work while feeling ill since the outbreak started. Some said they did not have sick paid leave and could not afford to miss work, while others feared disciplinary action could be taken against them if they chose to stay at home.

McDonald’s has responded to some of the concerns lodged against them. A spokesperson told Mercury News that the company will be starting wellness checks, as well as increasing cleanings, social distancing and hand washing guidelines throughout its locations.

Strikes Nationwide 

These strikes in California are part of a pattern of fast food workers striking across the nation. In late March, 100 workers in the cities of St. Louis, Memphis and Tampa walked off the job, or opted to not go to work due to unsafe conditions, and cuts in pay and hours. 

One KFC employee, Tiffany Lowe, told the Memphis Flyer that if fast food workers are considered essential, they should be treated as such. 

“I’m frustrated, angry, and confused as to why a multi-billion dollar corporation such as KFC wouldn’t give us the things we need to survive like hazard pay, healthcare, and paid sick leave,” Lowe said. “I mean if they want to call us essential employees then they should make us feel essential, treat us like human beings, and give us what we deserve.”

An anonymous McDonald’s worker based in Michigan also wrote a piece for Business Insider expressing frustrations at the company’s handling of the coronavirus. 

“I have a compromised immune system and have been told that I’m not allowed to wear any kind of mask at work because it might ‘put the customers off,’” the anonymous worker wrote. “That all I can do if someone sneezes on their money before handing it to me is wash my hands 2 to 3 minutes later and hope they didn’t have the coronavirus.” 

“These big corporations don’t actually care about their employees like they claim they do,” the author added, “and that’s showing now more than ever before.”

See what others are saying: (Vice) (Fox News) (Eater)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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