Coronavirus live updates: States sue Biden administration over vaccine mandate for health workers

If you’re vaccinated (and better yet, boosted) and considered low-risk for severe covid infection, staying in a house/vacation rental with family members who are also vaccinated and low risk is not much concern to health experts. Risks go up if you’re considered high risk, or someone else in the household is vulnerable (elderly un-boosted family members, unvaccinated kids). Risks go way up if people in the house are not vaccinated.

For hotels, the real risks are what you mentioned: busy lobbies, gym, crowded elevators — not the air between rooms. Mask up in public places, maintain social distance if you can and practice good hand hygiene along the way.

Natalie B. Compton

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The Migrant Workers Who Follow Climate Disasters

Bellaliz Gonzalez had never heard of Midland, Michigan, before a white van dropped her off there in late May, 2020. The journey from her home in Miami, with twelve colleagues, had taken around twenty-two hours. She arrived to a region devastated by a recent flood: cracked roads, collapsed bridges. Gonzalez, a fifty-four-year-old asylum seeker from Venezuela, with neatly coiffed auburn hair, prided herself on remaining calm in dangerous situations. In Venezuela, she had worked as an environmental engineer and run several of the country’s national parks. But for the past three years, living in the U.S., she had turned to manual labor to make money. Earlier that week, she had been recruited to work with a franchise of a disaster-restoration company called Servpro, to help Midland recover. She carried her go bag, which contained steel-toed boots, thick jeans, and gold hoop earrings that helped her feel elegant while doing backbreaking work. At the job site, she received a neon-yellow vest that featured Servpro’s name on the back, and the words “Safety Starts with You.”

Gonzalez and her colleagues had rushed to Midland after a torrential downpour—the effects of Tropical Storm Arthur—had burst through two hydroelectric dams. Governor Gretchen Whitmer described the damage as “unlike anything we’ve seen in five hundred years.” Eighteen inches of water flooded the local courthouse; vehicles from a nearby vintage-car museum escaped, belly-up, from the destroyed showroom. Whitmer declared that restoring the region would be a “herculean undertaking.” Some twenty-five hundred buildings needed repairs. Particularly urgent, given the surging pandemic, were conditions at a hospital in the city, MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland, where one of the I.C.U.s had lost power.

Gonzalez is part of a new transitory workforce, made up largely of immigrants, many undocumented, who follow climate disasters around the country the way agricultural workers follow crops, helping communities rebuild. She’d addressed damage inflicted by hurricanes, fires, floods, and tornadoes across seven states, scrubbing mildew blooms and clearing pools of toxic sludge from universities, factories, and airports. The work seemed meaningful and occasionally made her feel like a lucky tourist: she sometimes stayed in the shambles of beachside resorts she couldn’t otherwise afford. But it felt risky, too. In 2019, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael, she gutted the insulation of a home without proper protective gear and felt little pieces of fibreglass cutting her skin. The same year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, she helped demolish a serpentarium in North Carolina; the former owner, an eccentric herpetologist, had been murdered by his wife in the adjoining apartment. On the walls of the exhibits, placards had warned visitors of the effects of snake venom: “The bitten extremity swells to massive proportions . . . and your eyes weep blood.” Now the threat was the foul-smelling dust kicked up by the demolition, which left her coughing and wheezing.

Gonzalez and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Angelica, lived in Florida with Gonzalez’s sister, Enilsa. For months, Enilsa had been begging her to quit chasing catastrophes, and, after the pandemic began, she got a job at a McDonald’s. But the work was tedious, and paid poorly. Gonzalez and her daughter slept on twin couches in Enilsa’s living room. Angelica, a senior in high school and an aspiring graphic designer, hoped to go to college, but Gonzalez wasn’t sure she could afford it. In May, 2020, working an all-night shift, Gonzalez burned her forearm baking apple pies, and took it as a sign. Soon after, she saw a WhatsApp message from a group of Venezuelan storm workers noting a job offer from a small disaster-recovery labor broker called Back to New, based in Houston, that provided “on-demand workers, nationwide, 24/7.” It had a contract with a Servpro franchise and put out an urgent call for workers. The opportunity, the company promised, was “COVID-19 ready.”

Back to New sent more than a hundred workers to Midland from Florida and Texas, most of them Venezuelans. Many were experienced disaster workers, but some had recently been pushed into the work by pandemic debts. Leyda Yanes, a former attorney from Caracas, had worked at a bakery in Miami until it closed during the lockdowns. She had seen an ad from Back to New, and persuaded her husband, Jesús Delgado, an Uber driver, and their extended family to go to Midland. Workers told me that they had not been tested for covid or made to wear a mask. Gonzalez wore one, and, in the van, a young woman scolded her: “Don’t you know that you’re breathing your own air in that thing? You’ll cause permanent lung damage.”

In Midland, the group found conditions that were far from “COVID-19 ready.” They were taken to a local hotel, where they learned that they’d be sleeping four to a room, two to a bed. Gonzalez and others would be cleaning floodwater and damaged goods out of the Midland hospital, including its morgue. Workers said that daily meetings were held indoors and were crowded, as was the group’s work area; they were given inadequate protective gear that quickly ran out. (Back to New denied any wrongdoing during the project.) At the end of Gonzalez’s shift, she and Yanes would scour the ground for discarded latex gloves to wash and reuse. Reinaldo Quintero, a broad-shouldered worker from Maracaibo, the city where Gonzalez grew up, belted gaita music, a regional genre, and recruited Delgado to sing along.

Still, Gonzalez couldn’t let go of her worries. She asked a supervisor why they weren’t having the temperature checks they’d been guaranteed. “The thermometer’s broken,” the woman replied, shrugging. One day, around 6 A.M., Gonzalez and other workers climbed into vans bound for the hospital. “Where’s Reinaldo?” Delgado asked. Someone replied, “He’s not feeling well.” Gonzalez’s bedmate was also ill. “Maybe it’s just the changing weather?” Gonzalez suggested. She soon learned that Quintero had been tested for COVID-19. Later, she felt a pounding headache.

Cartoon by Roz Chast

On Saturday night, Gonzalez and several other workers decided to call Saket Soni, an organizer whom Gonzalez had met a few years earlier. Soni runs a nonprofit, called Resilience Force, that advocates for the fast-growing group of disaster-restoration laborers. As the workers follow storms, the organization follows them, trying to fight wage theft, avert injury, and generally prevent the kinds of disasters-within-disasters that pervade the industry. Soni is forty-three, with dark hair and owlish glasses, and an air of intense curiosity. That night, he was at his apartment in Washington, D.C., cooking an elaborate meal of octopus vindaloo. When he answered the phone, a group of workers clamored on the other end. Then Gonzalez came on the line. “Saket, it’s bad,” she said. “I think we’re contaminados.”

Apocalyptic weather has pushed many Americans into a belated recognition of the climate emergency. In the Pacific Northwest, temperatures surged past a hundred and ten degrees in June, killing more than two hundred people. In the Southwest, a “megadrought” dropped water levels to a once-in-a-millennium low. This past summer, Hurricane Ida sent Biblical rains through the roofs of homes across the Gulf Coast, then pushed north, killing at least eleven people in flooded basement apartments in New York City. But, even as awareness grows about what President Joe Biden calls our “code red” extreme-weather threat, most Americans know little about the labor crisis tucked within it.

The work of disaster recovery has always been gruelling. When the most lethal storm in U.S. history hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900, as Al Roker describes it in his book “The Storm of the Century,” “white soldiers forced Black men at gunpoint to the front lines of the most horrifying labor that any city could ever face,” which included loading hundreds of corpses onto a barge to be dumped at sea. After the Great Okeechobee Hurricane struck southern Florida, in 1928, three-fourths of those killed were migrant agricultural workers, most of them Black. Local officials conscripted the survivors to bury the dead in mass graves—pine coffins were primarily reserved for white victims—and, when some refused, they were denied food, or shot dead.

Today, the structure of the industry has radically transformed. For much of the twentieth century, many disaster-restoration businesses were mom-and-pop shops; they earned mostly modest revenues for repairing mostly modest problems (a house burned down by a stray cigarette, a chimney felled in a storm), and occasionally got windfalls when an outsized catastrophe struck. The work was done mainly by local laborers. In recent years, though, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities have made extreme weather more common and more intense. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted a new U.S. record in 2020: a total of twenty-two “billion-dollar disasters.” Insurance companies paid out at least seventy-six billion dollars for repairs that year, and the government paid more than a hundred billion. “We’re going to spare no expense,” Biden told the Federal Emergency Management Agency this past May, announcing that he would double its funds to prepare for extreme weather.

As money poured in, companies consolidated, and began to chase extreme weather across the country, competing for insurance payouts and government contracts. Quality Awning & Construction was founded in 1946 in Dearborn, Michigan, to handle small fix-up jobs around town. By 1989, the firm had changed its name, and the brothers who ran it began sending caravans of workers to storms in other states. In 2001, the firm was sold for an estimated two hundred million dollars to Belfor USA Group, an emerging industry heavyweight then run by Mark Davis and Jeff Johnson. Today, the company does upward of two billion dollars in business annually. As Forbes put it, “Climate change is good for Belfor.” Servpro, similarly, was founded as a family-owned painting business in 1967, and now has nineteen hundred locations across the U.S. and Canada.

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TSA workers near federal deadline to get vaccinated as busiest travel days near

We’re nearing the busiest travel days of the year, as TSA workers also near the federal deadline to get their coronavirus vaccines. 

There’s now concern over a possible staffing shortage come Thanksgiving. As of now, 40% of the TSA’s workforce is still unvaccinated. 

They have until Nov. 22 to get the vaccine, but Thanksgiving is just three days later. 

It’s not just a health concern for travelers as the busiest travel season approaches, but it’s also a security concern. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the TSA to work on a contingency plan before the federal deadline hits, worried that agents won’t get the shot in time and then the entire country would be down TSA staff. 

His suggestion is asking the TSA to deploy more canine TSA dog teams to airports instead – highly trained dogs to detect a variety of explosives, screen luggage and reduce wait times while keeping airports safe from COVID-19 and other treats in the process. 

News 12 reached out to the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA workers. It says will continue to encourage its members to get the shot before the deadline.

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Coronavirus live updates: US pledges $100 million to attract medical workers amid pandemic burnout – The Washington Post

Coronavirus live updates: US pledges $100 million to attract medical workers amid pandemic burnout  The Washington Post

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COLORADO TRAVEL: CDOT shortage of 191 workers could impact roads this winter

DENVER (KDVR) — This winter, drivers could face tougher driving conditions due to an ongoing commercial driver shortage.

The Colorado Department of Transportation currently has 191 open “transportation maintenance specialist” positions, compared to 77 vacancies last October, according to the agency.

The position includes plowing roads in the winter, filling potholes, fixing guardrails and other road maintenance work, officials say.

“We have shortages with our labor force throughout the state,” CDOT Communications Manager Bob Wilson said.  “It’s a situation that a lot of industries are going through, trying to hire drivers.”

CDOT stresses I-70 in the mountains and other heavily trafficked areas will take priority when it snows, however some main arteries in the metro, such as Kipling and Federal Blvd., could take longer for crews to clean up.

Highway 134 that goes over Gore Path is another stretch that will likely take longer to get according to CDOT.

“It’s difficult.  It’s a challenge,” Wilson said. “We try to give incentives to bring people on, but it’s challenging when you’re competing with other industries that also need drivers.”

CDOT has been putting on career fairs since September. The last event for this year is scheduled for Saturday in Fairplay.

CDOT offers nearly $17,000 in benefits, with a starting salary of about $40,000 annually including a 10% raise in the first year.

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NYC Passes Six Bills to Protect Food Delivery Workers’ Rights

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Key workers struggling to travel amid fuel crisis

Colin McDonald, an orthopaedic registrar at a district general hospital in the East Midlands, told the BBC that if fuel supply issues continued, and he couldn’t to travel to work, there could be delays to patient surgeries at the start of his shifts, which could then delay his fracture clinics in the afternoon.

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Disney World opened 50 years ago; these workers never left

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Applying to be one of the first workers at Walt Disney World, high school graduate George Kalogridis made a split-second decision that set the course for his life: he picked a room where prospective hotel workers were being hired.

Chuck Milam got a tip about a job opening from a transplanted Disney executive whose new house he was landscaping. Earliene Anderson jumped at the chance to take a job at the new Disney theme park in Florida, having fallen in love with the beauty of Disneyland in California during a trip two years earlier.

At the time, the three were among the 6,000 employees who opened the Magic Kingdom at Disney World to the public for the first time on Oct. 1, 1971. Now, they are among two dozen from that first day still employed at the theme park resort as it celebrates its 50th anniversary on Friday.

Over those decades, Disney World added three more theme parks, two dozen additional hotels and grew to have a workforce of 77,000 employees as it helped Orlando become the most visited place in the U.S. before the pandemic.

What never changed was the original employees’ devotion to the pixie dust, the dream machine created by Walt Disney and his Imagineers.

“Disney has been my love, and it still is,” Anderson said recently before starting her shift in merchandising at a Magic Kingdom hotel. “I love Disney.”

The employees who make up the 50-year club say the theme park resort has allowed them to grow their careers and try on new hats. Kalogridis worked his way up to be president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland in California. Milam went from a warehouse worker to a buyer of spare parts for rides and shows.

Forrest Bahruth joined the workforce at Disney World in January 1971 as a show director, responsible for staging and choreographing parades and shows. He was also given the opportunity to help open other Disney theme parks around the world over the past five decades.

“There are people all over the world who get up to go work. They’re unhappy about it. They don’t really like their jobs,” Bahruth said. “As you can tell from us, there’s an enthusiasm. We are privileged to be at a place where we love what we do.”

There was no guarantee that Disney World was going to be a success 50 years ago. Walt Disney, the pioneering animator and entrepreneur whose name graces the Florida resort, had died in 1966, just a year after announcing plans for “the East Coast Disneyland.” The company had quietly acquired 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) of scrub land outside Orlando for around $5 million via secret land purchases using fake names and shell companies.

The job of shepherding the project to Opening Day fell to his brother, Roy Disney, who with other company officials convinced the Florida Legislature to create a quasi-governmental agency that would allow Disney to self-govern when it came to matters of infrastructure and planning. Roy died almost three months after Disney World opened.

Just weeks before opening, construction at the Magic Kingdom was controlled chaos, and it seemed impossible that it would all come together in time.

“It was like an army of ants. Everything was under construction. Interiors were still being put in. Roofing was still being put on top,” Bahruth said. “There was painting, landscaping. Things were arriving by the moment. It was like trucks going everywhere.”

Bahruth rehearsed performers through parade choreography down Main Street, which cut through the center of the Magic Kingdom and resembled a turn-of-the-century small town from Walt Disney’s childhood. Even though he was a busser, Kalogridis was drafted into laying down sod outside the hotel he was working in, hours before Disney World’s grand opening.

Two things have stuck in the memories of the longtime employees from that opening day. The first was the photo. It was an image of thousands of Disney World workers standing in front of the iconic Cinderella’s Castle with Mickey Mouse and other costumed characters holding hands in front. Two weeks later, it was featured on the cover of Life magazine.

“They brought all the characters up, staged them first, and then they tried to keep all the different workers together based on the color of their costumes,” Milam said. “If you were from Fantasyland and in yellow, you would go over there.”

The second was the parade. It featured a 1,076-member marching band conducted by Meredith Wilson, the composer of the Broadway show, “The Music Man.” There were 4,000 Disney entertainers marching through the theme park, a mass choir and trumpeters from the United States Army Band. Hundreds of white doves were released into the air, and less environmentally friendly, so were thousands of multi-colored balloons.

“It was the biggest thing I had ever seen,” Bahruth said.

Only around 10,000 visitors showed up on that first day — which at today’s much larger Walt Disney World would represent about 90 minutes’ worth of visitors entering. It wouldn’t be until Thanksgiving 1971, almost three months later, when Disney executives had an answer about whether their new resort would be a success; that’s when cars trying to get into the Magic Kingdom stretched for miles down the interstate.

“It was very clear after that first Thanksgiving, that the public definitely liked what we were doing,” Kalogridis said. “That first Thanksgiving, that was the moment.”


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New York City passes protections for food delivery workers

A delivery person for Doordash rides his bike in the rain during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 13, 2020.

Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Lawmakers in New York City passed several bills on Thursday that seek to improve working conditions and set minimum pay for food delivery workers for companies like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

The move makes New York City the first to pass sweeping legislation that regulates the delivery industry, which has come under increased scrutiny during the pandemic and in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Here are some of the protections in the bills that delivery services will need to abide by:

  • Drivers can set a maximum distance per trip they travel.
  • Food delivery apps can’t charge couriers for payment of their wages, and they have to pay delivery workers at least once a week.
  • Drivers can choose not to accept trips over bridges or in tunnels.
  • Apps need to provide the driver, before a trip begins, with the food pickup location, the destination, and the estimated time and distance.
  • Delivery services can’t charge drivers or couriers for insulated bags to deliver food.
  • Food delivery apps can’t solicit a tip unless they disclose how much is paid to the delivery worker, and whether or not it’s available immediately or paid in cash.
  • Apps have to credit gratuities to workers and notify how much was added and if a customer removed the tip and why.
  • Applications have to inform the delivery worker of the total compensation, including gratuities, daily.
  • Food delivery services need to add a provision in contracts with restaurants that let couriers use bathrooms if the courier is picking up a delivery.

One bill requires the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to complete a study on food delivery workers and establish rules on the minimum payment required per trip.

“We recognize the unique challenges facing delivery workers in New York City and share the goal of identifying policies that will help Dashers and workers like them,” a DoorDash spokesperson said. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders, including the City Council, to identify ways to support all delivery workers in New York City without unintended consequences.”

Grubhub said it supports the bills.

“These bills are common-sense steps to support the delivery workers who work hard every day for New York’s restaurants and residents,” Grubhub spokesperson Grant Klinzman told CNBC. “Ensuring they receive a living wage and have access to restrooms isn’t just a good idea – it’s the right thing to do.”

Lawmakers in other states have also tried to protect gig workers and customers.

Last month, a California court ruled that Prop 22, a measure approved by a majority vote in November that exempted gig workers from state labor law, was unconstitutional. Prop 22 proposed that workers for app-based food delivery and ride-sharing companies should remain contractors, and be entitled to certain benefits and protections, like minimum earnings.

In August, Chicago filed suits against DoorDash and Grubhub for allegedly using unfair business practices and deceiving customers. Both companies called the suits “baseless.”

Meanwhile, Uber, DoorDash and Grubhub recently sued New York City over a bill that limits how much the companies can charge restaurants. In July, DoorDash and Grubhub sued San Francisco after the city introduced a permanent 15% delivery fee cap.

And DoorDash filed a separate suit against New York City earlier this month over a law that requires delivery companies to share more customer data with restaurants.

An Uber spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

CNBC’s Lauren Feiner contributed to this report.

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