It’s at least a week’s worth of news cycles ago that word came out about unemployment benefits and people’s return to work. Turns out that, while Congress was reluctantly pushed into extending and enlarging unemployment coverage, there were strings attached. Those being that employees who were recalled to jobs had no choice but to go to them, whether or not they were risking their lives and those of their families; whether or not they had children who couldn’t go to school and had no one to look after them; whether or not there were especially vulnerable people in the household; whether or not the employees were caring for sick relatives; whether or not the employers provided for social distancing or protective wear. It would still be a disgrace, although not quite as bad, if we were several more months into the pandemic and cases had dropped to almost zero (assuming that quarantines had the predicted outcome). Instead, as states have rushed to re-open prematurely, forcing people to go back to work under such dismal conditions is effectively a return to indentured servitude. And Big Brother is watching: even though at least 20 states haven’t begun to pay out the extra benefits levied under the CARES Act (Ohio being one of those states), there are already provisions with handy-dandy forms for employers to report workers who won’t come back to their jobs. Millions of people haven’t got their first unemployment checks two months into the crash, but some are nevertheless now being expected to risk everything to return to stores and restaurants. Good luck with collecting those benefits that were supposed to have been paid two months ago. States will weasel out on them under the rationale that re-employed workers don’t need the extra money. It’s a strong indication of the trouble this country is in when it’s better to stay unemployed.
As horrendous as the above circumstances are, a new wrinkle is emerging. On top of the mandatory return-to-work regulations, some companies are compelling employees to sign waivers absolving those companies from liability if said employees fall ill with the virus. People are forced to go into work, upon pain of being reported, and then if they get sick, it’s nobody’s fault, and they’re on their own. Probably with no healthcare insurance.
The supreme — though quite predictable — irony in all this is that the people who are most economically at risk are the ones who will be hit hardest by the new rules, by definition. Those people make lower wages to start with, and benefits are minimal, if any. They don’t have rainy day funds to tide them over, so they can’t afford to say no when call-backs are issued. Somehow, the powers-that-be have created a perfect storm to once again stick it to the little guys. It’s beyond me why the torches and pitchforks haven’t come out yet.
Actually, though, in other news, the AR-15s have come out. In several towns in Texas, which regulates handguns but not rifles and shotguns (a.k.a. “long guns”), heavily armed “patriots” have appeared in the parking lots of bars and tattoo parlors to fight lockdown orders. Citing Constitutional rights, without stating specifics, these men are there to allow business owners to re-open, despite local and state lockdown restrictions. One militiaman, in particular, said he’d die to protect his friend’s right to re-open her tattoo parlor. Where is law enforcement in these incidents? One county sheriff sent in a SWAT team to arrest the commandos, but the governor (who’d issued the lockdown order), made the sheriff release the prisoners, for rather vague reasons. Governor Abbott apparently didn’t go so far as to praise the assault-rifle-toting thugs as “very fine people,” but he obviously condones their actions. Texas has always had a collective Wild West mentality, but allowing militia groups with assault rifles to patrol parking lots is several orders of magnitude past tin-hat territory. Did I mention that Governor Abbott is a Republican, while the mayors of the cities where the militiamen appeared are Democrats? It seems that there are simply no boundaries when it comes to politicization in these times. I say, the next time Texas begins to make noises about secession, help them pack.