Going Back to Work in the Pandemic: We Could Get Sick, but What about Sick Pay?

As businesses around the country start to open up, those of us who still have jobs have to think about how much protection against infection there will be for us when we return to work.

New York City building service companies laid off 6,000 janitors when Manhattan office towers closed. When these towers re-open, cleaning and disinfecting work areas, cafeterias, break rooms, and toilet facilities must intensify. This means boosting the number of maintenance workers and not just rehiring those previously laid off.

But that’s not what our bosses want to do. One nationwide building service company just won a Postal Service contract by promising to cut costs by hiring 40 percent fewer workers than had been previously employed. Union workers for Planned Properties, a major janitorial service company in the New York / New Jersey metropolitan area, have already had to go on strike for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

It’s inevitable that returning to work now means some of us will get sick and a big issue will be paid sick days and health insurance for those returning to work. Workers at four New York City Chipotle locations had to strike last week to enforce New York’s sick pay laws.

Chipotle managers enjoy bonuses dependent on how much they reduce labor costs and raise productivity. According to the New York Coalition for Occupational Health and Safety, bonuses can be as much as 25 percent of a manager’s salary and managers are penalized when workers take sick days. Companies that cut down on sick days boost their bottom line and they will ignore laws that get in the way of that. With bosses determined to make up for lost profits from the pandemic, we can’t expect to get sick pay or the other protections we need unless we are organized to fight for them.

Featured image credit: Robert S / Creative Commons