Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling on Walmart, Amazon and McDonald’s ― three of the largest employers in the U.S. ― to provide real paid sick leave to all their employees, franchise workers and contractors to combat the coronavirus epidemic sweeping the U.S.
While all three have introduced some kind of emergency sick leave policy in response to the outbreak, none of the policies are sufficient to address the public health crisis, she says.
“I appreciate that your stores have remained open during this difficult time, and that you are doing your part to make sure that Americans have access to food during the pandemic,” Warren wrote in letters to the companies.
“As one of the largest employers in the United States, you have a responsibility in this escalating public health emergency to act to protect your workers and ensure your company’s policies are not exacerbating a pandemic,” the senator continued. “I am concerned that gaps in these policies will leave many workers without the option to follow best medical advice when they are sick, putting themselves, their colleagues, and their communities at greater risk.”
McDonald’s sick pay doesn’t extend to workers in its franchises, which make up 95% of its stores, Warren wrote. Meanwhile, Walmart’s policy is only accessible if you either test positive for the virus or are under official quarantine. Workers there told HuffPost that they’re not able to access paid time off for a variety of reasons right now. Amazon’s policy doesn’t apply to its many contractors and subcontractors.
Company sick leave policies or lack thereof are under the spotlight right now as the U.S. faces a massive public health crisis. More than half of workers at large employers say they don’t actually have access to paid sick leave. That means millions of people are facing a dark choice between their own health and that of their community and a paycheck. The U.S. does not guarantee workers paid sick time, standing apart from most other developed countries.
The current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that if any worker is feeling sick, they should stay home. Other workers need to be home right now to care for kids who are home from school or to deal with sick family members, Warren points out.
“I urge you to rise to the imperative of this public health crisis by providing universal, flexible paid leave and adequate health and safety protections for all your employees.”
The CDC also recommends that Americans avoid the doctor’s office right now to reduce the burden on the health care system. That puts workers who need medical documentation to get sick leave in a double-bind.
In the letters, Warren urges the companies to follow the policy laid out in a bill proposed recently by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), that would give workers 14 days of emergency paid leave with no strings ― regardless of how long they’ve been at a company, or if they have a doctor’s note, and without having to use any other accrued paid time off.
Though President Donald Trump recently signed legislation that would provide workers with 10 days of paid sick leave during the outbreak, his administration pushed for a massive loophole in the bill that leaves out workers at companies with more than 500 employees. Essentially, all the workers at the three companies Warren called out.
Though Trump said he’d work on extending sick leave to more businesses, the latest proposal for coronavirus relief put forth by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not provide any additional sick leave.
Warren says that sick leave should apply to everyone, including part-time and new workers, as well as those at franchises, subsidiaries, contractors and subcontractors.
She writes that companies should not require that workers get documentation to prove they’re sick or need to be quarantined. Finally, she wants companies to make sure that those who are still working are protected with adequate cleaning supplies and staffing levels.
On Friday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent a similar letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, asking him to do more to protect warehouse workers after the company announced an employee in its Queens facility was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Amazon employees have said that they do not feel protected at this time, even as the company is facing a surge in orders amid the outbreak. Recently, the company said it would pay workers $2 more an hour to deal with the increase in work and it’s looking to hire more employees.
“I urge you to rise to the imperative of this public health crisis by providing universal, flexible paid leave and adequate health and safety protections for all your employees,” Warren’s letter concluded.
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