As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the country and world, inspiring human ingenuity and mutual aid networks have brought us hope. Community leaders and activists are organizing to weather the pandemic, bringing us expansive lists of community resources, like this one from Women Employed, a member of JMA’s Illinois coalition; organizing direct funding support for restaurant, delivery, and personal service workers, like One Fair Wage’s emergency fund initiative; sharing DIY face mask patterns and information; and, across the country, forming mutual aid networks to help those most vulnerable in their communities.
Sadly though, capitalism brings out the worst in some corporations. Some are demanding huge bailouts while pursuing massive layoffs and slashing benefits, others are refusing to provide workers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Rumors are now swirling that some unscrupulous employers are even strategizing on how to absorb the $1,200 payments provided for under the federal stimulus package by simply not paying their workers the equivalent of the $1,200 stimulus check.
In Austin, Texas one company sought to dock paychecks for those receiving stimulus checks. “‘The form says they are preemptively deducting funds from our paychecks. That number is based on what they’re anticipating the government relief fund to be,'” one worker for the company told KXAN. The worker also said his company emailed a form titled “Employee Acknowledgement of ‘Government Assistance’ Pay Reduction” to some workers.
“In response to the economic crisis that is affecting all of us due to the coronavirus pandemic…(company name redacted) are hereby enacting the Employee Emergency Compensation Fund,” the letter stated. The agreement would put workers under a “temporary compensation reduction that is in line with the assistance that it receives from the federal government related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” By signing the agreement, the company’s employees would have their paychecks for April 6 to April 20 pay period cut by 100 percent of any money received under the stimulus bill, KXAN reported.
After public scrutiny, ImageNet, the now-named company, reversed its decision. But concerns remain that other corporations may pursue similar nefarious practices.
On Ask a Manager, a blog, one post cited a reader’s concerns about her employer absorbing stimulus checks. “I just got off of a conference call with Corporate in which they told us that if the U.S. government sends us the proposed stimulus checks due to Covid-19, they plan to absorb the money we receive by cutting our hours to reflect that amount. In other words, if each person receives a check for $1,200, $1,200 will effectively go back to the company. Is this legal?” the reader asked.
As Ask a Manager points out, the practice of recouping stimulus checks in this way is, unfortunately, legal. But public scrutiny and organizing brought an end to the policy at ImageNet in Texas. Moving forward, Jobs to Move America and our allies may need to remain vigilant about stories of such corporate malfeasance, sharing information far and wide so that our movements can continue to fight for good jobs and high-road labor standards. In these uncertain times, we all need to hold unscrupulous employers accountable to workers and communities. Together, we are the sunlight.
Natalie Wahlberg is Jobs to Move America’s Coalition Organizer in Illinois.