On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver touched on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson going in and out of intensive care due to coronavirus and Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race. However, the real story he wanted to unpack was how the coronavirus has impacted the unemployed and essential workers.
He gave us facts such that 1 in 10 workers have lost their jobs and that the Paycheck Protection Program launched by the government hasn’t had the most ideal rollout despite Donald Trump saying that it has “been great.”
“That is just classic Trump to try brag how in-demand an emergency bailout system is,” said Oliver. He adds that banks weren’t ready to take loan applications because the government didn’t release final versions of the documents they needed in time. As a result, many banks have been playing catch up. Oliver adds, “This is yet another area where this administration could have been preparing for this much sooner.”
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He cut to a clip of Director of United States National Economic Council Larry Kudlow downplaying complaints and saying that his wife, a renowned painter, didn’t have a problem with the program — but obviously she is coming from a place of privilege.
From here, Oliver took the time out to unpack Kudlow’s wife’s works — which are mostly of paintings of his shirts and ties. That said, Oliver made a call out to anyone who may have one of her works and offered $10 — plus a $20,000 donation for a food bank in their area.
Oliver returned to the matter at hand saying that millions have asked for government assistance as a result of layoffs across the country. Although the government has expanded unemployment insurance for the next few months, the magnitude of demand is making it very difficult for people to get through and actually get assistance. He cut to a clip of a woman being interviewed who has attempted to call the unemployment office 50 times with no luck getting through. On top of all this, those getting laid off are also losing their health insurance — and this is a bad time for this to be happening.
He shifted his focus on to how healthcare, custodians, grocery store clerks and other essential workers have been impacted by the coronavirus. Many companies have praised their workers — and he decided to focus on Amazon. The company even has an ad that shows a deep appreciation for all of their warehouse employees and their hard work. Even so, there seems to be a different story coming from the actual workers.
“While the company claims its keeping workers safe by distributing masks and conducting temperature checks, many Amazon workers paint a much different pictures such as ‘an inability to maintain social distancing guidelines, a lack of protective gear and hand sanitizer and lack of time to clean their hands’,” said Oliver.
He goes into how these workers are shipping essential things for the public but then cut to a clip of a man expressing his frustration for making them work to send non-essential items — like dildos. Oliver points out, “Risking your life to get someone a sex toy probably doesn’t feel fair.”
He adds, “If we are depending on these workers for our survival and to a certain extent our comfort, we owe them a lot in return…companies should be doing everything they can to lower risks to their workers.”
On top of all this, these companies should be offering paid sick leave — and many of these big companies don’t. Congress required two weeks of paid sick leave in the first response act to the coronavirus, but it only applied to businesses fewer than 500 employees. That said, the big companies are less generous.
Oliver than put the focus on Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who worked at the Staten Island warehouse in New York City that was fired after an employee walkout due to the unfair treatment. Amazon claimed he violated social distancing protocols but then a leaked memo from a meeting that Jeff Bezos was part of planned to make Smalls the face of the entire union organizing movement because he was “not smart or articulate.”
Amazon has since made their sick leave policy lenient only after they got letters from 14 state attorney generals claimed that Amazon’s initial policy was “inadequate to protect the public health.”
“Congress absolutely needs to mandate all businesses provide paid sick live in a next coronavirus aid bill on a permanent basis as well as require they provide significant hazard pay for any worker risking their lives,” said Oliver.
He added that grocery, transit workers and others that risk their lives need financial and physical protection. He cut to a story about a working EMT who has no health insurance — who said he just wants healthcare to live like a normal human being.
“We need seriously think on whether having our health insurance system so tied to employment is a good idea. I would argue it emphatically isn’t,” said Oliver. “In fact, while many of the problems we are forced to confront right now weren’t created by the coronavirus, it has thrown a spotlight on some of the biggest flaws on how our system operates.”
Oliver said that things like paid sick leave and hazard pay are band-aids and that we need them because the U.S. is bleeding. He points out, “When this over, this country is going to need more than band-aids — it’s going to need fucking surgery.” He adds that things need to change — but not back to “2016 normal.”
“The real test here isn’t whether our country will get through this — it will,” said Oliver. “The question is how we get through this and what kind of country we want to be on the other side.”
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