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Wages Show Signs of Picking Up as U.S. Job Market Improves

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In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, Tyler Kelly, 19,  left, fills out applications for parking enforcement and environmental compliance jobs during a public safety job fair at City Hall in Saginaw, Mich. The  Labor Department releases job openings and labor turnover survey for January on Tuesday, March 10, 2015.  (AP Photo/The Saginaw News, David C. Bristow)

In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, Tyler Kelly, 19, left, fills out applications for parking enforcement and environmental compliance jobs during a public safety job fair at City Hall in Saginaw, Mich. (AP Photo/The Saginaw News, David C. Bristow)

 

(Bloomberg) – The American job market shows signs of entering a new stage that will bolster households as employers fight to retain and attract workers by paying them more.

Wages for private-sector employees climbed 0.7 percent in the first quarter and were up 2.8 percent in the 12 months through March, the biggest gain in more than six years, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The agency also said the number of claims for jobless benefits declined last week to the lowest level since 2000.

Six years after the recession ended, unemployment may now be low enough to start prompting companies to compete against each other for staff. Bigger paychecks, a missing piece of the expansion, would make it more likely that the slowdown in economic growth last quarter will be fleeting, bearing out Federal Reserve policy makers’ assessment.

“You can feel somewhat more constructive on consumer spending in the next quarter or so given that wages have picked up and given that claims are so low,” said Michelle Meyer, deputy head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Corp. in New York. “There’s still further ammunition for consumers to spend.”

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Activism

MLK: Letter from Birmingham Jail

It was a King supporter who smuggled the nearly 7,000 written words, handing them over to King’s lawyers. The letter was then transcribed and printed partially or in full in several publications including the New York Post, Liberation magazine, The New Leader, and The Christian Century. It was also published by The Atlantic (August 1963) under the title “The Negro Is Your Brother.”

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Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his arrest in 1963. Photo courtesy of teachingamericanhistory.org.
Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his arrest in 1963. Photo courtesy of teachingamericanhistory.org.

By Tamara Shiloh

The year was 1963. Cries for equality and an end to injustice for Blacks in Birmingham, Ala., were silenced by the city’s mayor Eugene “Bull” Connor. Alabama Governor George Wallace, stood on the steps of the state capitol and declared: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” This became the motto for those opposed to integration and the Civil Rights Movement.

Bombings targeting leaders of the Birmingham campaign triggered the Birmingham riot. Klan-led violence went unchecked. Massive protests for civil rights grew stronger.

In April, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a cell in the city’s jail: “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known.”

These exact words targeted Birmingham for the next phase in the struggle for equality. A change that no one could have predicted was coming.

King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had joined with Birmingham’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). Their collective goal was to form a direct-action campaign that would cripple the city’s segregation system.

The city’s merchants would be under economic pressure if Blacks refused to patronize them during the Easter season. ACMHR Founder Fred Shuttlesworth described the campaign as “a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive.”

Despite a state court’s injunction and absence of a permit, King led the Easter boycott of white-owned stores peacefully on Good Friday. He was arrested by local police along with Ralph Abernathy and a few other protesters.

During the eight days of solitary confinement, King began to pen his response to white ministers who questioned why he and protesters had chosen to stage their protests in Birmingham. He did so on the margins of the Birmingham News.

It was a King supporter who smuggled the nearly 7,000 written words, handing them over to King’s lawyers. The letter was then transcribed and printed partially or in full in several publications including the New York Post, Liberation magazine, The New Leader, and The Christian Century. It was also published by The Atlantic (August 1963) under the title “The Negro Is Your Brother.”

Those pieces of paper had become the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the most important written document of the Civil Rights era of the time. It is one of the most famous defenses of nonviolent action against racism.

While incarcerated, King’s request for a phone call to Coretta Scott King had been denied. Coretta contacted the Kennedy administration, forcing Birmingham officials to permit the call. Bail money was made available, and King was released on April 20.

The Birmingham campaign was successful. Local officials removed White Only and Colored Only signs from restrooms and drinking fountains in downtown Birmingham, desegregated lunch counters, released demonstrators who were jailed, deployed a Negro job improvement plan, and created a biracial committee to monitor the agreement

Desegregation was slow, but change had finally arrived in what was once known as “the most segregated city in America.”

To listen to the letter in its entirety: “Martin Luther King Letter from Birmingham Jail,” by MLK.

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Activism

City’s Environmental Report on Oakland A’s Project Fails to Protect Health and Safety of Local Residents, Says Community Coalition

“The City has rushed the Final EIR in order to meet the arbitrary end of the year deadline set by the Oakland A’s,” according to a factsheet released by the East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA). “The City Council and Planning Commission should not be bullied by the Oakland A’s into certifying an EIR that fails to adequately consider the project’s full impact on the neighboring community and Port operations.” The public can attend and participate in the Final EIR vote at the City of Oakland Planning Commission Zoom meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 3 p.m. at: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82519936593

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The public can attend and participate in the Final EIR vote at the City of Oakland Planning Commission Zoom meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 3 p.m. at: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82519936593
The public can attend and participate in the Final EIR vote at the City of Oakland Planning Commission Zoom meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 3 p.m. at: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82519936593

Oakland Port Commission Zoom hearing on Final EIR set for Jan. 19 at 3 p.m.

By Ken Epstein

The real estate development at Howard Terminal proposed by billionaire developer John Fisher, the owner of the Oakland A’s, and backed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf “will result in numerous significant and unavoidable impacts in critical areas of concern such as toxics, traffic, air quality, and public safety,” according to a factsheet released by the East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA).

An examination of the 3,500-page Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) produced by city staff found that the Final EIR did not adopt any of the recommendations from the over 400 comments that were submitted by community members who pointed out numerous deficiencies with the Draft EIR, according to the factsheet released by EOSA.

“By refusing to substantively improve the Draft EIR in response to these hundreds of comments, and instead simply defending the previous analysis, the City and the A’s (in the Final EIR) are ignoring the majority of community stakeholders,” the factsheet said.

The EOSA is a coalition of local businesses, workers, labor organizations, and Oakland community members who are concerned about the Oakland A’s’ proposal to leave behind their current Coliseum location in East Oakland and build a new stadium in the middle of Oakland’s thriving working waterfront. Coalition partners include the ILWU, California Trucking Association, Acts Full Gospel Church, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, SSA Marine, Schnitzer Steel and the Oakland East Bay Democratic Club.

“The City has rushed the Final EIR in order to meet the arbitrary end of the year deadline set by the Oakland A’s,” the fact sheet said. “The City Council and Planning Commission should not be bullied by the Oakland A’s into certifying an EIR that fails to adequately consider the project’s full impact on the neighboring community and Port operations.”

Below are some of the “significant and unavoidable impacts of the Oakland A’s Howard Terminal project that the Final EIR fails to mitigate and address”:

Rail Safety – The EIR found that the project “would expose roadway users (e.g., motorists, pedestrians, bus riders, bicyclists) to a permanent or substantial transportation hazard.”

According to the factsheet, the EIR fails to provide any scenario where the project has adequate rail crossings for cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

“The A’s and City should not expose more people to potentially fatal safety hazards while traveling across these at-grade railroad crossings,” said the factsheet.

Air Quality – “Demolition and construction associated with the Howard Terminal development would result in daily emissions that exceed the City’s thresholds,” said the factsheet. “Significant and unavoidable air pollution impacts of the A’s Howard Terminal project also include contributing to cumulative regional air quality impacts and to cumulative health risk impacts on sensitive receptors.”

Truck Displacement -The EIR does not analyze the impacts resulting from the displaced trucks using the Howard Terminal site. This is a major impact of using Howard Terminal, but the EIR calls this analysis too “speculative” to analyze. “The project will likely result in more idling, more miles traveled, and more congestion on local roads for trucks trying to get to and from the Port,” said the factsheet

Toxic Remediation – “The EIR provides few details on the project’s required Remedial Action Plan because it still has not been drafted. This means that the City Council is being asked to approve the project before it knows the actual level of toxic remediation and the remaining toxic hazards,” according to the factsheet.

What information is in the EIR makes it clear that “the A’s don’t intend to clean up most of the site, but just to pave over and pile on the existing toxic pollution,” the factsheet said.

Maritime Compatibility – “The Draft EIR provided few comprehensive Seaport Compatibility Measures despite receiving dozens of suggestions from the maritime industry and waterfront labor that would minimize impacts on the Port,” the factsheet said.

To find out more about the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, go to www.eastoaklandstadiumalliance.com

The public can attend and participate in the Final EIR vote at the City of Oakland Planning Commission Zoom meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 3 p.m. at: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82519936593

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Bay Area

Oakland Healthcare Unions Denounce CDC and California’s New Guidelines

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

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Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.
Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Two unions representing healthcare professionals have denounced recent moves by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The California Department of Public Health that have eased, or in some cases temporarily eliminated, quarantining guidelines for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been directly exposed to the virus.

“Part of why there’s this rise in transmission is that people aren’t quite well and they’re able to come out and mingle with the public,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez in an interview. Triunfo-Cortez has worked as a registered nurse for 42 years, and she’s the president of National Nurses United (NNU), a registered nurses’ union with over 175,000 members.

On December 22 of last year, as news that the CDC was considering shortening their COVID-19 quarantine duration guidelines from 10 days to five days was spreading, the NNU published an open letter to the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that urged her to maintain the 10-day quarantine period.

“Weakening COVID-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating COVID-19 surge yet,” the letter reads, “will only result in further transmission, illness and death.”

On December 23, the CDC changed their guidelines for healthcare workers. To address staffing shortages, the new guidelines stated that medical facilities could have both vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers who test positive for the virus return to their jobs immediately without quarantining in certain crisis situations as long as they were either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

On December 27, the CDC changed their guidelines for the rest of the population, shortening the quarantining period from 10 to five days. The new guidelines stated that as long as a COVID-positive person has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they don’t have a fever, they can end their quarantine on the sixth day.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of [COVID-19] transmission occurs early in the course of the illness,” reads a statement from the CDC about the reduced quarantine guideline, “generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after.”

In their letter, the NNU pointed to the extremely contagious Omicron variant, and warned “Now is not the time to relax protections.” They mentioned pressure from businesses to maintain profits “without regard for science or the health of employees or the public” as the primary motivation for shortening the quarantine time. The letter included a link to a story about Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asking the CDC to consider such a change.

Data from Alameda County, and California show that after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to become widespread in mid-December, local and statewide cases surged. By late December, average daily case rates were higher than they ever had been before.

Hospitalizations also rose sharply. Then cases and hospitalizations continued to rise through early January and have continued to rise. At the time of publication, information on recent COVID-19 deaths is unclear as the county and the state are updating that data.

“It’s stressful because some of our co-workers might be coming into work sick,” said Sonya Allen-Smith in an interview on January 7 about working under the new guidelines. She’s been an X-ray technologist at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Oakland for 13 years and is a member of the SEIU UHW union for healthcare workers.

“We think about if we’re going to take it home to our families,” she said. “My husband’s immune system is compromised. If I bring it home to him, he definitely will not make it.”

The Oakland Post obtained a flow chart Kaiser e-mailed to their employees on January 7 that guided them through the quarantine process the company required them to enter into if they tested positive for COVID-19.

It showed Kaiser employees had to quarantine for five days and could return on the sixth day if they tested negative for the virus with an antigen test. Allen-Smith said she felt the quarantine period was too short.

“We’re not giving people enough time to heal or recover,” Allen-Smith said. “Weakening the guidelines is not going to stop the staff shortage. It may increase it because people will spread it.”

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that they’re “implementing CDC and CDHP guidance and isolation with considerations to vaccination status and staffing levels.” It also stated that “all employees coming back or continuing to work, wear the appropriate PPE and follow all infection prevention measures.”

On January 8, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) decided to temporarily adopt the guidance for healthcare workers the CDC had released on December 23 to address staffing shortages at healthcare facilities.

“From January 8, 2022 until February 1, 2022, healthcare professionals who test positive for [COVID-19] and are asymptomatic,” reads their statement announcing the new guidelines, ”may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing.”

The statement also said such returning employees would have to wear N95 masks while working and that these new guidelines could again change as information becomes available.

Both the NNU and the SEIU-UHW unions immediately denounced CDHP’s decision.

“For healthcare workers on the frontline it is very disappointing to see the State of California bypass common sense safety measures,” said Gabe Montoya, an emergency room technician, in a statement SEIU-UHW released. “No patient wants to be cared for by someone who has COVID-19 or was just exposed to it.”

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

When asked for a statement about their Bay Area healthcare facilities, Sutter Health’s media team wrote an email stating: “Consistent with CDC contingency tiered guidelines released in late December, and in response to critical staffing conditions, we have revised our process for how employees who work at patient care sites return after they have been sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It’s important to note that symptomatic employees are not returning to work until their symptoms improve.”

When asked directly if asymptomatic COVID positive employees were currently returning to work, Sutter Health’s media team did not respond.

When asked about their current COVID-19 quarantine policies, Alameda Health System’s media and communications manager Eleanor Ajala wrote “Alameda Health System is reviewing guidance” and that they planned to attend a meeting with the state to discuss the issue.

On January 11, Allen-Smith said she hadn’t heard of any change to Kaiser Permanente’s quarantine policy, but that she knows three co-workers sick with COVID-19 who had just returned after five-day quarantines.

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that to address staffing shortages they were “employing traveling nurses, adjusting elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures as needed, and offering our industry-leading telehealth capabilities in addition to in-person care.”

The media team did not directly answer when asked if Kaiser was allowing asymptomatic COVID positive employees to return to the job at Bay Area healthcare facilities.

Allen-Smith is unhappy about the guidelines changing and is unsure if Kaiser’s policy will further change in the near future due to CDHP’s recent announcement.

“A lot of us are confused and sad and just don’t feel safe in the workplace,” she said.

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