Labor Day in the time of COVID

Maxing out the threshold

labormovementOn this Labor Day, we see how the coronavirus has pointed out flaws in how we operate a number of systems. Of course, unemployment skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic. “Millions of people lost their job-based health insurance. While many are people are theoretically eligible for other forms of health insurance coverage, it’s not always that simple.

“This two-minute video lays out the options: Medicaid, job-based coverage from a spouse or parent, ACA marketplace coverage, COBRA, and short-term insurance plans.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plans may be able to elect continuous insurance coverage upon a “qualifying event,” such as losing a job or having hours reduced so that you’re no longer covered. That’s the upside. On the other hand, COBRA plans, in my experience, have been mighty expensive, especially when underemployed or unemployed.

The current regime’s constant attacks on “Obamacare” may have people believe the ACA is no longer an option. But it’s still there.Some folks thought the pandemic would aid the call for “Medicare for all,” or for all who want it. Perhaps, in a few months, it will.


Having talked with a number of people who are working from home, I note some love it. They avoid much of the office politics, for example. On the other hand, others are having difficulty establishing a working day that is never over. This 2014 post in The Guardian, long before COVID-19, notes that “phones and emails enable bosses to pester staff at all hours. As a result, one-third of us feel unhappy about the time we devote to work and 40% of us are neglecting other parts of our lives because of work demands – which is likely to increase mental health problems.”

Our household fell into recognizing the separation of job and leisure when my wife was working from home in the spring. “Think you had a problem checking your work emails late at night? Without figuring out structure and boundaries it’s so easy to merge your work life and home life. Avoid that by putting a routine in place and physically separating work from home.

“For example, don’t plan to work from the couch. Instead, designate a space to work that’s away from living spaces and the kitchen. A desk in a bedroom, backroom, or spare room is perfect, preferably somewhere you can close the door if you share your living space with others. That works both ways because when your working day is over, you can shut the door on your job and ‘go home.'”

A lot of businesses are now also asking how to monitor employee internet activity so you need to get some good software if you need to do that.

You don’t feel well

Pre-COVID, a 2014 survey by the National Survey Foundation (NSF) concluded that 4 out of 10 Americans say they come to work sick simply because they don’t have much choice. Approximately 10% of those surveyed said they go to work sick. If you’re physically going to the job, that’s a terrible idea.

Undocumented immigrants, according to this CBS News report are particularly vulnerable. Generally excluded from the stimulus plans, many of these folks work, even when ill.

What if you are working at home and you feel as though someone ran you over with a truck? Obviously, you’re not going to infect your co-workers. Still, if you would have stayed home with your symptoms, you should take a sick day, if it’s available. “Plowing through” could just make one sicker.

“We NEED you!”

I’ve had enough conversations with unhappy employees to recognize a really disheartening phenomenon. There is a body of workers who actually have sick and/or vacation days accrued. However, they are discouraged, actively, or subtlely, from ever taking them. And often there’s a threshold, beyond which one can actually LOSE paid time off.

I remember feeling like the “indispensable employee” back in my FantaCo days. My boss insisted, correctly, that I should take time off. I decided to take eight successive Wednesdays off. The new comics came on Thursday, so this made sense. I read, went to the movies, cleaned my apartment, paid bills, and still had the weekends for fun.

We’re aware of how the Europeans take off more time than Americans. Yet, “almost as much productivity can happen, but within a defined set of hours… It’s setting an expectation; people don’t feel like they have to be checking email.”

An Abe Lincoln quote

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.

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