But state laws are a partial approach, and worker protection or benefits largely depend on what employers will provide. Ifeoma Ajunwa, an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says employers operate as their own private governments, with the freedom to run a business. Covid has exposed “the limited power the government can have over employers,” Ajunwa says. “The pandemic has really exposed this, especially when it comes to covid-19 precautions or covid-19 procedures for work.”
This means that it is mainly up to the workers to research and understand their rights.
“If you’re part of 94% of non-union private sector workers, you may not know the benefits exist,” said Justin Feldman, a Harvard epidemiologist who wrote about covid-19 and the workplace. “And even if you know it exists, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it without retaliation.”
In a statement, the New York Department of Labor told me it had received “various complaints” for violating the covid-19 vaccination absence law and said it was “trying to collect unpaid wages or refunds for those not paid for vacations as needed. ”
But even laws that appear on paper to support workers could ignore those on the safest jobs. The New York Department of Labor said any worker denied leave due to vaccination should file a complaint, but declined to say specifically whether so-called workers were covered. (Ajunwa of Chapel Hill says that since the law uses the word “employee,” it would not include workers working on gigs, who also do not receive health insurance at work.)
Public health experts point out that there is no single safe tactic for vaccinating people. The government could create a series of paid days off for workers in different sectors to get injections, but we should still combine that with other public health strategies, like going to the door, Feldman says.
The misconception about covid-19 should also be addressed: younger workers may believe they are not susceptible to the severe consequences of the disease, Feldman notes, especially if they have already worked in person with minimal precautions during a pandemic and have not fallen ill. It may be especially difficult to change your mind after hearing peers, the media, or risk-reducing commentators.
“We have to treat vaccinating people as a national emergency, and that means not treating her as an individual who is failing,” he says. “We have to do a lot of different things at the same time and see what works.”
Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician in the San Francisco Bay Area, says people need more information before they can be persuaded by incentives. She founded Conversation, in which black and Latin American health workers provide credible information about covid-19 vaccines to their communities.
“The main stimulus is personal self-interest,” Boyd said in an email. “Once people get the information they need, based on science, it makes the other ‘carrot’ become more like icing on the cake.”
What would that look like?
“What’s enough, we’ll only know when everyone gets vaccinated,” she says.
Meanwhile, the level of worker protection in the workplace continues to rely on redirecting public health recommendations, their employers ’own policies, and the whims of customers who may choose to adhere to safety measures – or not.
And although public health officials took the vaccine clinic to public parks, churches and celebrations on June 19 in an attempt to change their minds, workers are following what their bosses are saying and doing.
“Workers of each railroad take signs of what they should be doing from their employers,” Ajunwa says. “I think this indicates the excessive impact that employers have on the lives of employees in America.”
This story is part of it Pandemic Technology Project, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.