By MARY ANN O'TOOLE HOLLEY
The COVID-19 outbreak is causing massive disruption to the U.S. economy as global supply chains break down, travel is canceled and people practice social distancing, avoiding everything from restaurants and retail outlets to conferences and office meetings. One-fifth of U.S. workers report losing hours or work because of the pandemic.
Worker layoffs are often seen as an inevitable part of an economic crisis like the one we’re living through. Unfortunately, job losses carry a high price for individuals and the economy — laid-off workers have less income to take care of their families, lose access to health insurance and deepen the economic crisis by spending less.
Elevator Constructors Local 3 members, however, have moved into a new realm in the workday world — “work-sharing” to ensure that no one loses their health benefits during this time of employment chaos. Through work-sharing, they are keeping each other on the payroll, while easing the pain of the downturn.
“We usually refuse to do this, but it’s going to keep as many as possible in benefits,” said Local 3 Business Manager John Orr.
Under work-sharing, employers experiencing a temporary reduction in business agree to cut employees’ hours instead of laying off workers entirely. A provision of the federal stimulus package allows some workers working reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for unemployment benefits, depending on how much they make on half-time hours.
A NEW APPROACH, BUT WORKING FOR NOW
By keeping workers employed, businesses benefit by retaining these valued employees and avoiding recruitment and training costs when economic conditions return to normal. Workers benefit by retaining most of their income and access to health insurance — a critical factor in a public health-triggered economic crisis like this one.
Orr says members are being very agreeable about the job sharing, although with any new system, there are always problems, he said.
Each of the members has remained with their company but have partnered with another member to share the work. Orr said the sharing is determined by the companies.
“There are, of course, some companies that aren’t conducive to job sharing because of security concerns. Hours are dependent on what company you work for, and there are some facilities that demand 40 hours per week, Orr said.
“Sometimes because of security concerns you can’t alternate guys,” Orr said. “Some members volunteered for furlough, and some companies determine how many hours are available.”
‘WAITING FOR IT TO BE OVER’
Local 3 has 330 members and about 90 apprentices.
“We are just waiting for it to be over,” Orr said. “We have a lot of hotels that are closed, the Enterprise Center and the ball park are closed, there was no need during hockey season. Some of the bigger office complexes are working from home.”
Orr added, “As more and more businesses open up in St. Charles County in May, things should improve. For now, everyone is sharing the pain.”
For more information on pandemic unemployment insurance and Coronavirus stimulus fund claims, visit uinteract.labor.mo.gov.