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Thousands of Workers Say Their Jobs Are Unsafe as COVID-19 Cases Spike

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  • 1.5 million people filed for unemployment last week, though continuing claims fell by nearly 1 million.
  • But as the labor market stabilizes and more communities reopen, thousands of workers have filed complaints with the government alleging their workplaces are not safe to be in during the pandemic.
  • Workplace safety has become a major issue that is expected to grow as reopenings continue, especially because there are no enforceable federal laws that require employers to protect their workers during the pandemic.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. hit 2 million cases of coronavirus, and at least 20 states have reported increases in their numbers.

Concerns Over Worker Safety

Another 1.5 million people filed for unemployment, the government reported Thursday, marking the continued trend of decreasing claims over the last few weeks.

Perhaps even more notably, the number of continuing claims, which counts how many people filed two weeks in a row, fell to 20.9 million from 21.3 million last week. Economists now say that continuing claims are a better economic marker of how the U.S. labor market is doing as the pandemic continues.

The lower numbers are, at least in part, a reflection of the widespread reopenings that have taken place over the last several weeks. But as reopenings continuing and the number of people going back to work rises, so do the concerns about workplace safety in the pandemic.

Those concerns are due to one major reason: the fact that there are no rules for pandemic-related workplace safety on the federal level.

The federal government has issued guidelines for employers that reopen, but like the federal guidelines for states that reopen, they are not mandatory or enforceable.

While governors in some states have put worker protections in place under executive orders, there have been growing numbers of people who say they do not feel safe at their jobs and have filed formal complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

According to the official government data, OSHA has received thousands of workplace safety complaints related to COVID-19 over the last few months. Those complaints have risen significantly since states started reopening.

At the end of April, before states started reopening, OSHA reported just over 3,000 claims were filed at the federal level and 7,800 at the state level. But as of Wednesday, federal claims jumped to over 5,000 while state claims nearly doubled to more than 12,430.

With the growing claims, labor activists and unions have started putting more pressure on the government. In mid-May, the AFL-CIO, which one of the largest labor unions in the country, announced that it was suing OSHA to get it to implement mandatory national safety requirements during the pandemic.

At the same time, Republican congress members have been trying to pass legislation that would protect employers from being sued by their workers if they catch the virus— and idea that President Donald Trump has also said he supports.

Huge Spikes in States Reopening

But as states push forward with their reopenings, labor advocates are worried that without a codified national law the situation will only get worse, especially given massive spikes in coronavirus cases that have been reported in numerous states in recent days.

On Wednesday, the U.S. officially hit two million confirmed cases, and according to reports, new infections are now increasing in at least 20 states.

South Carolina, which had reopened most businesses by the end of last month, is now reporting more daily cases than ever— even higher than the state’s previous peak in April.

Florida, which was one of the first states to ease restrictions and has implemented one of the broadest reopenings, is also seeing a surge. On Saturday, more people in the state tested positive for COVID-19 than any other day in the past two months.

One of the biggest new hotspots is Arizona, where cases have increased 115% since its stay-at-home order ended on May 15. This week, the state also reported an average of over 1,000 new cases every day, making it the highest per capita infection growth rate in the U.S.

On Tuesday, Arizona’s health department said that only a quarter of the state’s ICU beds were available, which promoted the state’s health director to direct hospitals to activate coronavirus emergency plans for the first time since March. 

But Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has refused to put restrictions back in place, and the executive order he signed that lifted restrictions explicitly prohibits local officials from putting further restrictions in place to curb the virus in places where there are large outbreaks.

Ducey has also repeatedly claimed that the rise in cases is due to the increased number of tests that the state was administering— a claim disputed by numerous health experts.

“It’s very clear that it’s a real increase in community spread,” Will Humble, the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association told KJZZ. “It’s not some artifact of additional testing.”

Humble’s remarks were also echoed Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told the Post that positive test rates are outpacing the increased testing, which suggests Arizona’s enhanced testing is not the cause of the spike.

Ducey, however, is not the only governor that has made the argument about increased testing contributing to a rise in cases. Leaders in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Texas, and several other states have prompted similar claims in the last few weeks.  

But both public health experts and current data puts those claims in serious contention.

According to NPR, cellphone data collected by the Gleam Project suggest that “people in the U.S. are moving around at a level that’s up to about two-thirds of what it was before shutdown rules were implemented. This supports the idea that the new increases are real, not just a result of more testing.”

Governors Push Ahead

However, governors all across the country are still pushing ahead with easing more restrictions, including in some of the largest hotspots.

In Texas, where total cases shot up by one-third over the last two weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott still said he plans to move ahead with his plan reopen basically all businesses that have not already reopened by the end of the week.

When Texas set new records for coronavirus hospitalizations on three consecutive days this week, Abbott said the spike in cases is expected and “largely the result of isolated hot spots in nursing homes, jails, and meat packing plants.” 

But local health officials have said that is not true, and that there is a clear link between Abbott’s early and broad reopening. 

Other states are also pressing ahead with new openings despite significant rising cases.

In Arkansas infections rose by one third in a week and hospitalizations have also gone up nearly 90% since Memorial Day.

Despite that, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Wednesday he is still going to go ahead with phase two reopenings, arguing that the surges were not tied to his easing restrictions.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates

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The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.


Same War, New Battlefield

Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.

Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.

Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.

Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources. 

Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.

According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.

Xbox Under Fire

To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture. 

While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.

“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.

“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,”  Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.

Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”

The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.”  That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want

Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).

“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.

The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.

“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)

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Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools

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Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.


Abuse Allegations

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.

The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.

One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.

Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.

Investigation Launched

In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down. 

“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.

OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications. 

In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported. 

NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.

“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others, it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.” 

Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools. 

In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.

See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)

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Mass Shootings in Half Moon Bay, Oakland Rock California

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Just since Saturday, at least 19 people have been killed and 17 have been injured in mass shootings in California.


California Sees Third Attack in Under a Week

Two California localities experienced separate mass shootings Monday, just days after an attacker killed 11 and injured nine others in a suburb of Los Angeles.

The first of the most recent shootings took place in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 30 miles outside of San Francisco, where a gunman killed seven and critically injured an eighth at two different locations.

According to authorities, police were dispatched to the first location around 2:20 pm and found four people shot to death and a fifth victim also suffering gunshot wounds. Shortly after, three more people were found dead at another site nearby.

About two hours later, police discovered the suspect in his car in the parking lot of a San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office substation with a semiautomatic handgun in the vehicle that officials later confirmed he had purchased legally.

Sheriff Christina Corpus said the man was taken into custody “without incident” and is “fully cooperating.” He has been identified as a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident of Asian descent.

Currently, the gunman’s motive is unknown, but the Sheriff told reporters Monday that both of the locations he targeted were nurseries, and it has since been reported that they were mushroom farms.

“All evidence we have points to this being an instance of workplace violence. The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, is where the subject was employed,” Corpus said in a press conference Tuesday, though she added that, so far, the “only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been coworkers.”

As of writing, it remains unclear why he targeted the second location. A mushroom farm called Concord Farms has told reporters that it was the site of the second shooting — which a law enforcement official confirmed to The Washington Post.

In a statement to the media, a spokesperson said the farm had “no past knowledge” of the alleged gunman or his possible motives. Little has been released about the victims, though Corpus said Tuesday they were all adults and a “mixture of Asian and Hispanic descent,” some of whom were migrants. 

Authorities had previously stated that, because people both live and work on the farms, children were among those who witnessed the shooting. However, on Tuesday, one official walked that back and said while children were indeed in the vicinity, police do not have information about specific witnesses.

Just hours after the violence in Half Moon Bay, seven people were injured, and one other was killed during a shooting at a gas station in Oakland. Very little has been reported about the incident, but police have said that the shooting was “between several individuals.”

Renewed Calls for Gun Control

Californians continue to reel from the rapid succession of mass shootings in a state known for its strict gun control laws.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence, the state ranks No. 1 in the country for gun law strength. An analysis led by the organization found that California has the sixth-lowest rate of gun ownership and the eighth-lowest gun death rate.

Many of California’s top lawmakers have argued that the state’s relatively low gun violence statistics emphasize the need for more federal regulations.

“The Second Amendment’s becoming a suicide pact,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told CBS News in an interview.

“We’ll continue to find whatever loopholes we can and continue to lead the national conversation on gun safety reform. And the data bares out. It works. It saves lives,” he continued. “California’s 37% lower than the death rate of the rest of the nation, and yet, with all that evidence, no one on the other side seems to give a damn. I can’t get anything done in Congress.”

Following the Monterey Park shooting, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.), alongside other Democratic colleagues, introduced two gun control bills in the upper chamber. The first would ban assault weapons, while the second aims to raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.

President Joe Biden quickly threw his support behind the measures, urging Congress to pass them.

“The majority of the American people agree with this commonsense action,” he said in a statement Monday. “There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders, suspected mass murderers, or those accused of committing violent crimes who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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