As coronavirus gains foothold, hourly workers face uncertain futures

House bill would give sick leave to some workers, companies revising sick leave for some employees

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the United States, companies across the nation have been forced to reexamine their policies to help protect hourly workers, who account for a majority of the American workforce.

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Some companies, including Starbucks, Olive Garden and Walmart, have temporarily changed their paid sick leave policies, urging shift workers to stay home if they’re sick or symptomatic.

On Saturday, the House passed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill, backed by President Trump, is headed to the Senate for a vote. One of the tenets of the bill, which seeks to provide relief to American workers stuck at home because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is paid sick leave.

According to a recent report published by Shiftboard, there are nearly 82 million hourly workers in the United States representing about 60 percent of the total workforce.

Shift work spans generations. While most shift workers are Generation X, those roughly between the ages of 40 to 54, about one in five hourly workers are over the age of 55. And about 48 percent have children under the age of 18.

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About 24 percent of civilian workers, or 33.6 million people, do not have access to paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the bureau’s National Compensation Survey found in 2019 that while paid sick is nearly universal for high-income earners, it becomes scarcer for lower-income workers.

Many hourly workers are well-educated with significant earning power, according to Shiftboard. About 36 percent of hourly workers have graduated from two- or four-year colleges. More than half of hourly workers earn more than $60,000, while 25 percent report a household income of $100,000 or more. Still, more than 20 percent said they earn less than $30,000.

On average, retail and restaurant workers earn between $16 to $20 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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If the House bill is approved by the Senate and signed into law by Trump, it would grant two weeks of paid sick leave at 100 percent of the person’s normal salary, or up to $511 per day. The bill covers coronavirus-related sick leave taken during the next 12 months.

But there’s a catch. The bill only applies to employers with 500 or fewer workers. Small businesses with fewer than 50 workers can also apply for an exemption through the Labor Department if it “would jeopardize the viability of the business.”

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