The Coronavirus Pandemic Highlights Need for Labor Reform

The novel coronavirus outbreak, in a few short months, has had a devastating effect on the national economy. Thousands of employees in key sectors have seen a drastic decrease in their work hours; some have lost their jobs altogether. With a shockingly low number of supports available to these workers amongst this time of crisis, the gross inadequacies of the U.S. labor law are being brought to the spotlight.


Which industries are being affected most by the outbreak?


There are very few industries that are not being affected by the outbreak. Some of the hardest-hit industries include those that are on the frontlines of the rapidly declining rates of travel, which includes travel, hospitality, and service sectors.


The majority of airline employees, such as flight attendants, customer service representatives, and flight technicians, have begun to experience layoffs or reductions in work hours amidst drastic declines in flight bookings, which is believed to exceed 50%. While some airline companies are choosing to reduce work hours for their employees, many of these employees are paid by the hour and as such, rely on working a sufficient number of hours. Worse still, a small number of airline companies have implemented temporary lay-offs. It is worth noting that not the employees with reduced work hours, nor those who have lost their jobs, will be offered additional compensation.


Amidst declining rates of travel, major cruise lines have suspended all departures from U.S. ports for at least the remainder of the month, effectively putting thousands of employees out of work. Hotel chains across the nation have also turned to reductions in work hours and temporary layoffs to deal with declining room bookings. As a result of the aforementioned, travel and tourism agencies are undergoing major downsizing, as well.


Ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are being affected by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus outbreak, as well. As drivers transports dozens of clients daily, they are at increased risk of contracting the virus. Many have decided not to put themselves at risk and to work less hours, effectively slashing their pay. On the other hand, there has been a decreased demand for transportation as more people choose to stay home. Drivers are feeling the severe financial consequences of reduced work hours and are even racking up their expenses amidst increased need for vehicle cleaning and disinfection.


Lastly, the restaurants are seeing unprecedented lack of patronage, and in some cases, are being forced to shut down operations altogether. As a result, tipped and hourly workers are working much less, while some have even lost their jobs.


It is worth noting that the above industries disproportionately employ racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and those of limited financial means. For example, restaurants in major metropolitan areas employ undocumented immigrants as over 10% of their total workforce.


In general, the populations employed by the above sectors have less savings and other resources that can act as a safety net in the case of illness, emergency, or a nation-wide economic depression. While there are few protections for the well-off under the labor law, they are virtually non-existent for the socially and economically disadvantaged of our economy.


What are some of the inadequacies in the labor law?


#1. Employers are Not Required to Offer Paid Sick Leave.


While many companies do, in fact, offer paid sick leave to employees, they are not required by the law to do so. Furthermore, paid sick leave is a luxury often known to full-time, salaried employees. The vast majority of hourly wage-earners will not be paid for work missed due to illness, and in some scenarios, may even lose their jobs over missed work.


Amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak, the harsh reality is that a significant number of individuals will not be able to miss work – even if they suspect themselves or their co-workers to be experiencing symptoms of the virus.


#2. Many Emloyers are Not Required to Offer Health Insurance.


Many employees rely on their employer for health insurance. Amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak, certain lucky employees can use work-sponsored health insurance for virus screenings and treatment. However, many hourly wage-earners are not offered health insurance by their employer, and as such, must face the novel coronavirus outbreak uninsured. The options for these workers are either to pay full medical costs out of pocket – which is prohibitively expensive, with the average physician office visit costing at least $200 – or to wait for their illness to reach levels so grave as to warrant a trip to the emergency room, where hospitals are required by law to provide treatment to all. In the case of the latter, the individual will still be responsible for the cost of treatment.




#3. Employers are Not Required to Offer Flexible Work Options.


A rigid work schedule makes sense only for a small number of industries. For the remainder of employees, a flexible work schedule may be an invaluable tool for increasing productivity, health outcomes, and job satisfaction. Similar effects can also result from offering employees opportunities to work remotely. On the other hand, unreasonable rigidity can interfere with an employee’s ability to balance work and non-work responsibilities.


Amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak, many employees report not being able to seek timely health care services due to work scheduling conflicts. And those who can reasonably conduct their work remotely, but are not given the option to do so by employers, are facing unnecessary exposure during their commutes and interactions with others in the workplace.


#4. Unemployment Insurance Does Not Cover Basic Living Expenses.


Employees that have been laid off, due to the coronavirus or otherwise, can collect unemployment insurance through their state’s labor department. However, the maximum that is awarded is several hundred dollars per week, with the exact amount depending on the state in which it is issued. Currently, the state of Hawaii offers $648 per week, which is the maximum amount awarded in the nation. Major cities with high costs of living offer less, with New York paying $504 and California paying $450 per week. For many employees affected by layoffs, especially those with families to take care of, this is not a realistic option.


Has the government made any changes to the law in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak?


As per the recently-introduced coronavirus relief bill, certain protections will be offered to workers affected by the outbreak. While the bill is comprehensive, the provisions most relevant to workers are as follows:


  1. Free testing for the novel coronavirus will be offered to everyone believed to be infected.


  1. Workers believed to be infected with the novel coronavirus will be offered two weeks of paid sick leave.


  1. The one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits will be waived for those laid off due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.


It took the U.S. government something as grave as a viral pandemic and national economic crash to implement these basic protections for employees. However, even they are grossly insufficient for addressing the situations of thousands of workers in the tourism, hospitality, and service industries. Furthermore, despite their accomplishments, these temporary laws are simply a suspension of the reality that the aforementioned workers live on a daily basis. What will happen when the next outbreak occurs? What happens when illness occurs on an individual level?


The only adequate solution is to permanently require paid sick leave, health insurance, and sensible work options to all employees.


Can employees get fired due to the novel coronavirus outbreak?


Since most employees in the U.S. are employees-at-will, they can be legally fired for any reason. As such, under the federal law, it is permissible for your employer to fire you due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. However, some employers may provide their employees with a contract, which is often presented in the form of an employee handbook. If the contract addresses topics related to contagious illness, they may serve as rules which the employer cannot violate. For example, if the contract states that the employee is entitled to a certain number of absences due to a contagious illness, then the employer may not be legally permitted to fire an employee due to absences caused by such an illness.


If your employment has been terminated because you missed work due to a contagious illness, you may have a legal claim against your employer. Likewise, if you are an employer, you may find yourself facing legal action on behalf of a terminated employee.


The offices of Jason Flores-Williams can help you to address issues related to termination due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. We can answer your questions and act as your legal representation in a case based on termination due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

How Trump’s Many Policies Leave Immigrants Vulnerable to the Novel Coronavirus

The Trump Administration has long been thought to push forward immigration policies that violate human rights and dignity. Amidst the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus, these same immigration policies are thought to pose a considerable threat to public health, as well.

The first way the Trump Administration puts immigrants at risk stems directly from the increased number of deportations of undocumented individuals, many of whom are held at border detention centers until they are able to appear in court. In conjuction, the process for asylum applicatitons has been slowed tremendously – in large part due to applications being rejected for pedantic reasons, such as failure to include a middle name. As a result of these factors, migrant detention centers are experiencing unprecendented crowding.

Cramped and confined physical spaces create ideal conditions for the transmission of a virus, especially one with as a high a transmission rate as the novel coronavirus. Although, thus far, there have not been reports of an outbreak at migrant detention centers, shoud one occur, it would be virtually impossible to contain. This would pose a risk not only to the detainees, but those employed at the detention centers, and potentially, all of those they come into contact with.

To imagine how easily the novel coronavirus can be transmitted between detainees in a migrant detention camp, it might be helpful to consider the thousands at the border who have been infected with influenza, chickenpox, and mumps — all due coming into contact with one infected individual while being barricaded in crowded and unsanitary conditions. They key difference, however, is that unlike the aforementioned diseases, the novel coronavirus does not currently have a vaccine that can protect against the infection. In addition, its mortality rate is much higher. According to public health officials, the best and only preventative measure is to avoid large crowds and other infected individuals. In that case, migrant detention centers are grossly unprepared to address a potential outbreak.

Yet another way the Trump Administration is negating public efforts to contain the virus is by cultivating fear amongst immigrants – legal and undocumented alike – surrounding the use of health care services. As per the “Public Charge” rule, if an individual is likely to overutilize entitlements, even if they are within their legal right to use them, their application for a U.S. visa might be denied. Since the implementation of the rule, one-in-five individuals residing within the U.S. who are in the process of applying for a U.S. visa have abstained from utilizing Medicaid and Medicare-covered health care services. While this rule applies only to those applying for a U.S. visa, there have been reports of legal immigrants abstaining from utilizing entitlements, as well. Aside from the many negative consequences for individual and public health, this rule is especially dangerous amidst the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Any individual, regardless of citizenship status, should feel safe with reporting any potential symptoms of the virus and of immediately reporting to a health care facility, without the worry of their actions being met with punitive measures. The Trump Administration has done nothing to dispel any misinformation and to encourage immigrant communities to utilize health care services.

Furthermore, undocumented immigrants may be fearful of being apprehended by immigration enforcement agencies such as ICE. Although ICE claims that it does not conduct raids in hospitals, clinics, and private offices, these locations are at the same time not currently being touted as enforcement-free zones by officials. The Trump Administration has made no effort to promote this message amongst immigrant communities, leaving individuals up to fear-based speculation. This may contribute to the reason why many immigrants — especially those of undocumented status — may be afraid of seeking medical care, even if they believe that they are infected with the virus.

In spite of these oftentimes unfair and arbitrary policies, it is important to remember that many individuals are legally entitled to health care services covered by Medicaid and Medicare. Even those of undocumented status has the legal right to be treated by hospitals in the case of an emergency, which infection with the novel coronavirus certainly is. Although the Trump Administration has effectively posed a risk to the health of many immigrants and to the nation at large, it is important to not let fear and misinformation interfere with protecting the health of the most vulnerable amongst us.

Is It Safe for U.S. Citizens to Travel to Mexico During Springbreak?

Mexico is one of the most popular destinations for Spring Break amongst U.S. citizens – for college students, working professionals, and retirees alike. However, amidst the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus and advisories against travel by major government agencies, it might be worthwhile to balance all sides of the equation in deciding if traveling to Mexico in the upcoming months is a safe endeavor.


What is the Mexican government doing to contain the virus?


While the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, claims to be following evidence-based protocols for the containment of the virus, some argue that the country is ill-prepared to meet the demands of an outbreak.


According to infectious disease specialist Francisco Moreno Sanchez, Mexico is not doing nearly enough to contain the virus. Sanchez states that the country has only three medical centers that have the certification to test for COVID-19. As such, should an outbreak occur, the country will not be prepared to confirm cases and treat infected individuals, and may even be grossly underreporting the number of actual cases.


The Mexican Ministry of Health is keeping live updates on the number of cases and has created a hotline for those wishing to report symptoms and to request medical attention.


How many cases of coronavirus have been reported in Mexico?


As of March 11, 2020, there have been 12 confirmed cases of COVID-10, with seven in Mexico City, and individual cases reported in Coahuila, Chiapas, Puebla, Queretaro, and Nuevo Leon. No cases have been reported in popular tourist hubs, such as Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, and Tulum. It is worth noting that all infected individuals have traveled to high-risk international areas and are recovering from the virus; as such, there are no reported deaths due to the virus.


However, despite the low number of reported cases, Mexico may not be considered a low-risk nation. While hundreds of cases have been confirmed in neighboring Latin American countries, the risk of an uncontained outbreak is much higher in Mexico, which shares a border with the U.S. As of March 12, 2020, over 1,300 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. Not only does Mexico have the highest rate of U.S.-based tourism of any Latin American country, but the highest rates of cross-border travel for work-related matters.

Furthermore, due to the limited number of testing centers in Mexico, it is possible that the number of reported cases is simply that – reported cases. The actual number of infected individuals may be higher, and without the proper protocols for detecting the virus and placing infected individuals under quarantine, the virus may be spreading rapidly, posing a threat to locals and tourists alike.


Are there any travel restrictions placed on Mexico?


In related news, President Trump instituted a 30-day travel ban to 26 European countries that are part of the Schengen Area free movement zone and blocked entry for those with recent travel to China or Iran. There are currently talks of limiting domestic travel. However, there are currently no restrictions in place on land, air, or water-based travel between the U.S. and Mexico.


How has the coronavirus affected the tourism industry?


Approximately 45 million international tourists visit Mexico every year, with tourism being one of the nation’s most important industries. Although there are no reported statistics for the number of tourists who had canceled their travels to Mexico, major airlines have not canceled flights between the U.S. and Mexico since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.


Despite the normal operations of airline companies, the Mexican peso fell in value relative to the U.S. dollar by over 5 percent. As such, for U.S. tourists, the dollar has much higher buying power than in past years and is expected to increase in value in the coming months.


Amidst fears of limited travel, airline companies, hotels, and cruise lines are offering major discounts to travels, oftentimes upwards of 50 percent.


Will I be allowed to enter the U.S. if the outbreak in Mexico worsens?


The Trump Administration has not released an official statement outlining the protocol for blocking U.S. citizens from entering the country in the case that the virus outbreak intensifies in Mexico. Following the protocol for travelers from high-risk countries, such as China, Iran, and Italy, it is highly possible that U.S. citizens will be directed to major airports where they will undergo the proper screening before being allowed to enter the country.


It is worth keeping in mind that the travel bans to the 20+ nations were announced without any prior notice. Given the Trump Administration’s relations with the Mexican Government, more arbitrary and austere measures can be reasonably expected. Mexican nationals and immigrants might be at particular risk of experiencing complications related to potential travel bans. As such, if you are traveling to Mexico in the coming months, for any period of time, it might be helpful to have an attorney who specializes in cross-border litigation to assist you with any complications which might arise.


Jason Flores-Williams is a U.S.-based attorney with offices in Mexico City who specializes in litigation on both sides of the border and can advise you on any potential travel and immigration issues that might arise during your travels to Mexico.

Timeline of Legal Career

(2007) Capital Appeals Project

After graduating from Rutgers Law School, JFW moved to the devastated city of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. He worked for the Capital Appeals Project as a public defender, representing indigent clients on death row. The Capital Appeals Project was founded in 2001 and has represented clients in landmark cases, even appearing before the Supreme Court.


(Were there any notable cases between these years?)

(2016) Charlie Hill

Charlie Hill is an American revolutionary and former member of a militant group called the Republic of New Afrika. He fled to Cuba after allegedly killing a cop in New Mexico in 1971.


JFW became interested in Charlie Hill after President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement that the U.S. will begin normalizing relations with Cuba. At that time, New Mexico’s governor requested that Charlie Hill be extradited to the U.S. so that he can be prosecuted for the still-open case. Hill did not have any legal representation since many attorneys were too scared of being accused of aiding and abetting a fugitive. However, JFW connected to Charlie Hill through a foreign journalist and announced that he would be the attorney responsible for preventing Hill’s extradition to the U.S.

(2016) Vietnam War Veteran

Otto Macias is a U.S. Army Veteran who served in Vietnam as a machine-gunner beginning at the age of 19. Following his return home, he suffered from PTSD and schizophrenia, and after years of hospitalizations, he went to visit relatives in Cuba, where he extended his residence. After a year, the U.S. Army permanently cut off his pension and benefits.


After Obama’s announcement of detente with Cuba, JFW saw an opportunity for Macias being able to reinstate his benefits in old age and became his attorney.

(2017) Homeless Lawsuit

After moving to Denver, JFW conversed with some homeless individuals and found out that many of them had their property, including a tent and sleeping bag, confiscated after leaving it temporarily unattended. The City of Denver claimed to have been following standard procedure during sweeps and cleanups; however, the fact that private property was being confiscated and destroyed brought up issues about property rights and due process.

JFW brought a lawsuit on behalf of ten homeless individuals against the City of Denver, which eventually turned into a class-action lawsuit, representing the homeless population of Denver. The lawsuit resulted in a monetary settlement for the plaintiffs and resulted in a new process for confiscating property.

(2017) DisruptJ20

On Donald’s Trump Presidential Inauguration Day, a group of over 200 protesters held a demonstration, which involved destroying property. That day, many protesters were arrested and charged by federal prosecutors with felony conspiracy and Riot Act charges.


JFW was the attorney for the first three protestors, setting the precedent for the remaining cases. He believed that his clients were not guilty of property destruction or assaults on police that they were being accused of, and that the federal prosecution was trying to sow fear among anyone planning similar acts of dissent in the future.

(2017) Colorado River

JFW brought a lawsuit against the State of Colorado on the grounds that it violated the Colorado River’s right to flourish by polluting, draining, and threatening its ecosystem. It was based on the premise that since corporations have rights, so too should an ancient waterway have rights. This is in line with several nations whose governments have recognized some rights for natural entities.

How Coca-Cola is Privatizing Water in Mexico and Why Mexico is Allowing It

The Chiapas Highlands, one of Mexico’s wettest regions, has a water shortage.

Although the region has some of the highest levels of renewable water resources in Mexico, one in three residents lacks safe drinking water. Meanwhile, at a nearby Coca-Cola bottling plant, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are being consumed every day for the production of sugary beverages.

Due to the lack of safe, available, and affordable drinking water, residents of the Chiapas region drink more than two liters of coca-cola per day. To be exact, cola drinkers in Chiapas drink, on average, 2.25 liters every 24 hours. Indeed, the soda, neatly packed in reusable glass bottles, is priced cheaper than water in the rural regions.

With 2.25 liters of sugary soda per day, an average of 5,113 calories is obtained, which is well above the average 2,000 calories that are needed for daily sustenance. As a result, during the last decade, the leading cause of death in Chiapas has been Type 2 diabetes.

Coca-Cola produces at a local bottling plant, Femsa, which has permits to extract mass quantities of water per day as part of a deal with the Mexican federal government. As a result, Femsa is one of Mexico’s most powerful companies, with the former chief executive of Coca-Cola in Mexico serving as the country’s president from 2000 to 2006.

The company plays an important economic role in the region’s capital, San Cristobal, employing about 400 people and contributing around $200 million to the state economy. However, Coca-Cola plays a disproportionately small amount for its water privileges – about 10 cents per 260 gallons. Furthermore, Coca-Cola pays this money to the federal government, not the local government, while the infrastructure that serves the residents of San Cristobal is crumbling under the weight of their demands.

Residents of the region have been asking both state and federal governments to install a deep well in the community for 12 years in order to increase the community’s access to water, but authorities have failed to do anything. As such, there is a vacuum in the market, which Coca-Cola has more than taken advantage of. However, instead of water, they are peddling sugary soft drinks.

Aggressive marketing campaigns led by Coke and Pepsi that started in the ‘60s helped embed sugary soft drinks into local religious practices. For decades, the companies produced billboards in local languages, often alluding to culture and tradition.

However, the company denies any responsibility for the community’s health issues, claiming that Mexicans may have a genetic proclivity towards diabetes.

According to a statement from Coca-Cola: We recognize the challenges the San Cristóbal community faces, and that is why we have been working with them for nearly a decade to provide community water tanks, roof-top water collectors, and water conservation projects to help address this issue.

If the government has failed to protect the community of Chiapas, and free-market capitalism has only exploited their vulnerability, who will stand up for the people who most need our help? This is another instance of the law having failed the people.

Is this a legal or civil issue?