Back to work, or else: Trump administration tells states to pull unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON—GOP President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary, Eugene Scalia, and his #2 who runs the agency that oversees jobless benefits want employers to report—and states to bar benefits from—workers who fear returning to their old jobs because their employers won’t protect them against the coronavirus.

The memo, from John Pallasch, a GOP operative, an advocate for so-called charter schools and a former top Kentucky Employment Department official under right-wing GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, makes clear the intention is to deny jobless benefits to those jobless workers.

“States must work to maintain program integrity by ensuring claimants”—workers—“are not continuing to claim benefits when they have been offered suitable work,” he declared. In other words, if you’re offered your old job, regardless of conditions, you must take it.

That drew the ire of the Communications Workers.

“When you put a union-buster in charge of the Labor Department, workers are the ones who suffer,” said Micki Siegel de Hernández, CWA Deputy Director of Occupational Health and Safety, referring to Scalia’s own past anti-worker record.

“When the Labor Department should be putting its full efforts into making sure Americans are safe on the job, Scalia is continuing to focus on instilling fear in the workplace, allowing hazardous conditions while shielding employers from liability and creating more red tape for states trying to get unemployment benefits to people who desperately need them.”

“The Trump administration’s actions have been disgraceful and show blatant disregard for workers’ lives,” she added. Also told of the memo, Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry responded to other media: “It feels like governments and corporations feel some lives in this nation are worth sacrificing.”

The mass closures and stay-at-home orders forced by the coronavirus pandemic—and the Trump regime’s inadequate, mismanaged, politicized-against-blue-states response—have thrown at least 36.5 million people out of work since mid-March. Now, Trump and Scalia, catering to their corporate sponsors, want to reopen the businesses again—regardless of whether it’s safe to work at them or not.

That didn’t stop Scalia and Pallasch, assistant secretary for employment and training.

“To support states that identified claimants who have turned down suitable work, states are strongly encouraged to request employers to provide information when workers refuse to return to their jobs for reasons that do not support their continued eligibility for benefits,” said Pallasch’s memo to the DOL staff. “We also strongly encourage states to remind employers and the public about the claimant and employer fraud resources within each state.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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