COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

An organization that protects safe and healthy work conditions for employees in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has failed its mission in a meat packaging plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Three workers have filed a lawsuit in a federal court against the agency claiming that they have caused the plant to become dangerous and potentially fatal to all the employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. The organization was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. The primary goal of OSHA is to protect employees by observing and verifying that working conditions are updated and safe to work in. However, the government foundation was unsuccessful at ensuring secure environments at a meat packaging franchise. Maid-Rite Specialty Foods is a frozen food manufacturer that produces meat products, such as chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and veal. Recently, their plant in Scranton has experienced an influx of attention, due to its questionable practices.

In July, three meatpacking workers decided to file a lawsuit against OSHA for unsafe working conditions after they failed to respond to the incident previously. The employees stated that the company has produced an “imminent danger” throughout the plant by inadequately implementing codes and procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Originally filed in May, the suit states that Maid-Rite did not supply workers with appropriate equipment and failed to implement social distancing guidelines. In response, Maid-Rite reported to OSHA that they are not able to maintain a 6 feet distance between workers on the production lines, but they have provided workers with masks, given them staggered breaks, and performed deep cleanings of the plant. As a result, OSHA closed the case. Since then, one person who spoke out against the manufacturer claims that they did not separate sick workers in the plant, and people failed to tell the company that they were infected. In addition, the employee claimed that Maid-Rite provided workers with an incentive to work by providing bonuses to people who did not miss a day of work. According to public health officials, this decision encourages people to work when they are potentially sick. All the evidence described has led workers to go to a federal court in order to receive changes in their current working conditions.

Famous auto insurance giants are being sued by policyholders for providing insufficient financial relief to motorists during the pandemic. Among those accused include: Allstate, Geico, Progressive, Erie Insurance, American Family Insurance, and The Travelers Company. These well-known insurers are currently facing major allegations by Illinois residents for their inappropriate rebates to financially unstable clients.

During the height of the pandemic, companies issued policies for their employees to work remotely from home. As stated in the lawsuits, miles driven by motorists dropped by almost two-thirds during the spring. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that the rate of unemployment rose to 14.7% in April 2020. Previously, the rate was 10.3%, which they claim is the highest rate increase in the history of their data records. At this time, the statistics from the United States Department of Labor show that the number of people who were unemployed increased from 15.9 million to 23.1 million. Also, the governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker, announced that residents should stay at home to reduce exposure to COVID-19. As a result, people did not have to use their vehicles as often as they previously did.

However, insurance companies did not reduce premiums or rates during the pandemic. Now, multiple lawsuits are emerging against the insurers. In an Illinois Cook County Circuit Court, people protested that high rates have greatly affected their financial status. Although some of the alleged insurers offered some support to customers, it was not a significant amount that would cause the policyholders to drop the case. Clients state that a community State Farm offered its customers a 25% credit during March 20 to May 31 of this year. In contrast, a local Allstate in Northbrook offered a 15% credit for April, May, and June. Consequentially, the lawsuits accuse the companies responsible to be in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The legislation protects consumers, borrowers, and business workers against fraud or deceptive actions in trade or business activities. As stated in the lawsuits, the clients expect that as long as the disease continues to spread, the abnormal amount of rebates will pursue.

Popular ridesharing companies are currently facing extreme criticism for an undefined classification of their employees and for providing inadequate wages. People claim that Uber and Lyft are deliberately labeling drivers as “independent contractors” instead of employees. An Independent Contractor status means Uber and Lyft to not need to reimburse drivers for expenses such as mileage and car maintenance, nor are they required to pay drivers minimum wage, unemployment, and sick pay benefits, which as employees they would legally receive.

Uber Technologies, Inc. (Uber) is an American multi-purposeful company that has become a worldwide phenomenon since it was founded in 2009. According to Uber, there are currently 900,000 Uber drivers in the United States, and it is projected that there are about 3 million drivers throughout the world. Uber has announced that there are 75 million riders worldwide, and the company has completed 6.9 billion trips in 2019. Primarily located in the United States and Canada, Lyft, Inc. is another carpooling service that is similar to Uber. With over 1.4 million drivers, Lyft continues to expand its accessibility to clients in both countries. The two establishments employ drivers to offer a variety of services, including delivering food and providing rides for transportation. In fact, a majority of Uber drivers also work for Lyft. As the businesses continue to grow, the debate over the companies’ employee policies becomes more imminent.

The major lawsuits are predominantly occurring in California, where both companies are headquartered in San Francisco. In May, a lawsuit concerning the misclassification of drivers was opened. As a result of the case, a judge has allowed Uber and Lyft to change their classification of drivers as a preliminary injunction. If the companies fail to response to this decision, the judge will prohibit the terminology of drivers as independent employees. As stated by law in California, ridesharing establishments are required to announce their drivers as official employees. Following the previous and current lawsuits, California has updated strict and specific laws for people to be independent contractors. Since then, other numerous lawsuits have surfaced. California’s Labor Commissioner declared that the businesses are being charged for alleged wage theft. Also, they have been accused of not providing certain benefits for their workers that are mandatory under state law. Under the misinterpretation of drivers as independent contractors, they were not required to provide benefits. Now that the term is being viewed incorrectly, Uber and Lyft will have to compensate for the financial losses.

The United States-based travel management company, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), successfully completed a transaction with hackers who stole company data and knocked tens of thousands of company computers offline.  The transaction, which was negotiated and agreed upon through a publicly accessible online chat, stated that if CWT were to pay $4.5 million to the hackers within 24 hours of the messages (occurring on 7/27/2020), then the hackers would delete all of CWT’s data from their servers and supply the company with decryption software to restore all computers affected by the hack.

The perpetrators used a strain of ransomware called “Ragnar Locker” to attack the company’s data.  Ragnar Locker is actually able to take the data hostage, encrypting it and essentially making it useless.  The victims of these attacks are then forced to succumb to the demands of the hackers or lose access to the data permanently.  When it comes to large companies like CWT, the data is often extremely sensitive and frequently personal.  Attacks like these put the companies’ data, along with the data of their clients at risk.  CWT is believed to have had two terabytes of files, which included financial reports, security documents and other sensitive data stolen.

CWT claims to have immediately reported the hack to United States law enforcement and data protection authorities, located in Europe.  Despite the swift action, they were left to decide whether to continue risking the data of employees and clients or roll the dice on trusting the hackers to pull through their side of the bargain, and paying the ransom.  Following payment, which was completed using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it was reported that the hackers did indeed stick to their word and supplied decryption software.  It is also currently assumed, although it may never officially be confirmed, that they did delete all CWT data from their servers.

Last month, Schuylkill County and the surrounding areas experienced an unusual and plentiful amount of rain; however, one small borough received a little more than most. With a population of just over 700 people, the main street of Gilberton was transformed into a river of eight feet of water. Since the water levels were progressively rising, multiple people had to evacuate their homes into boats to get to safety.

Officials reported that the peculiar amount of water was partially the result of construction and clogged drainage pipes on a bridge in the town. They believe that the bridge and its piping system was unable to contain the rushing waters of the Mahanoy Creek, which caused Main Street to flood. Gilberton’s drainage and piping system was severely damaged. Eventually, six pumps from New Jersey were used in draining the water levels and are currently serving as the primary way to move water through the town. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), an agency that supervises issues of transportation for the state, was working on construction for the bridge before the flooding occurred.

Local towns and organizations partnered together to supply the residents of Gilberton with life essentials, such as food, water, and clothing. Organizations, such as veteran groups and Boy Scouts, and businesses, like Lowe’s and Advanced Auto, have donated to the relief fund. Only 3 miles away, Girardville, another small community, donated cleaning supplies to help people restore and disinfect their homes. Items included gloves and cleaners, along with clothes, rags, and non-perishable food. The mayor and residents of Gilberton started a donation drive for the families of the damaged homes. They expect that the town will need a substantial amount of financial help in order to restore the town’s water system and appearance.

As the world nears the end of July, new research declares promising results for the latest Coronavirus vaccines. There are more than 3,800,000 confirmed cases in the United States and more than 14,700,000 cases worldwide. The public has been waiting patiently for a vaccination; however, there are multiple steps that must be completed before a vaccine is deemed effective.

Before a vaccination is permitted for public-use, there are several steps and guidelines in order to ensure its success. First, the vaccine must be developed and studied before it can be tested on people. At this stage, the vaccine is considered “preclinical”, which means that it is being changed and updated frequently. There are more than 100 vaccinations that are in this stage, and only 18 have moved to Phase I of the testing stage. Researchers will begin testing a small group of people to monitor the dosage and efficiency of the vaccine. As it becomes available to pass to Phase II, more participants from different ages are involved. Essentially, the trials are expanded from Phase I and are studied more closely in the following phases. The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) has declared that the vaccine must protect at least 50% of all vaccinated participants to be labeled “effective” and succeed to the third and final phase of testing. Phase III incorporates testing thousands of people from different age groups and monitoring their results. Once the test trials conclude, official regulators will review the results and determine whether the vaccine will be approved for commercial use.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca, a global bio-pharmaceutical company, have recently conducted a trial for their prototype vaccine. Researchers have published their data in a general medical journal, The Lancet. Their test vaccine consists of a combination of genetic material from the Coronavirus and a modification of the Adenovirus, which causes mild respiratory illnesses. They tested 1,000 participants between the ages of 18 to 55 in their trial. Overall, the vaccine was mostly accepted by the participants tested; some reported that they experienced mild symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, but there were no severe reactions.

Have you noticed your go-to beer or soft drink is hard to come by or completely unavailable?  It may not be coincidence; as the COVID19 pandemic continues to rage across the United States, shortages of a multitude of supplies have occurred.  Everyone remembers the toilet paper panic of March and April, the lack of available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the beef shortage at fast food restaurants like Wendy’s, and the general uneasiness these shortages and others like them gave us.  However, July has seen the rise of new shortages, most notably: aluminum cans.

You may have seen articles online or news segments that are discussing other prominent July shortages due to COVID19, such as coins or lumber; however, aluminum cans may make the greatest impact on the average American.  As COVID19 impacts rose, many Americans sought to bulk up on goods stored in their homes.  In doing so, consumption of products, including beers and sodas, shifted away from bars, restaurants, and convenience stores, which rarely utilize aluminum cans, and moved towards multi-pack products often purchased for domestic consumption.  These bulk-based products frequently feature aluminum-canned items.

This newfound demand for aluminum cans is pinching supplies for some drinks, and creating a significant disparity between supply and demand.  This disparity has sent the can industry into a tizzy, as manufacturers have already announced plans to build three new manufacturing plants in the next 18 months. Ball Corporation, a popular North American can maker, has also pledged to open two new manufacturing plants in the United States and add two additional production lines to already existing factories.  The corporation had seen an uptick in can demand from specialty drinks like hard seltzers and sparkling waters.  They also noted that the environmental upside of cans, combined with the rise in popularity of newly canned drinks and COVID19 impacts, has created “unprecedented demand and short supplies” of their coveted aluminum product.

A new study may send a shock to millions of at-risk Americans.  The study, which was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology early this week, claims that taking heartburn medication featuring “Proton Pump Inhibitors” (PPI) could increase your chances of contracting the cause of the current pandemic, COVID-19.  In fact, it claimed the medication could make you between 2 – 4 times as likely to test positive for the potentially deadly virus (compared to non-users).

The study, which was led by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. Brennan Spiegel, surveyed over 86,000 individuals through online communications.  Among them, more than 53,000 people reported taking medication for pain or discomfort associated with gastrointestinal regions of their bodies.  Ultimately, over 3,300 of them tested positive for COVID-19.

Although there is an array of medications to deal with gastrointestinal issues, proton pump inhibitors are extremely popular, and accessible.  Offered both through prescriptions and over-the-counter, popular medicines featuring PPI’s include, but are not limited to: Prilosec, Prilosec OTC, Zegerid, Prevacid, Protonix, Aciphex, Nexium, and Dexilant. These medications act by turning off pumps in cells that release acid into your stomach, and can be taken once or twice daily.  The study also determined the more frequently an individual was to take PPI medication, the more likely they would be to contract COVID-19.

Elmiron is a pentosan polysulfate sodium, which is used to treat interstitial cystitis or “painful bladder syndrome.”  Painful bladder syndrome affects more than a million people in the United States by causing chronic pain in the bladder and pelvis areas.  Currently, Elmiron is the only prescription pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat painful bladder syndrome.

Following the FDA’s 1985 approval of Elmiron, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson, began production and distribution.  Elmiron has been open about known side effects, such as hair loss, bruising, diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux, headaches, skin rashes, and sleep disorders.  However, studies completed in 2018 and 2019 determined that up to 25% of individuals who used Elmiron over an extended period of time developed vision loss and damage to their eyes, which has raised concern over whether the drug is safe.  The condition caused by Elmiron is referred to as “pigmentary retinal maculopathy of unknown origin.” Although maculopathies are fairly common conditions, the one seen in Elmiron patients is so rare, it was given its own name and its cause is referred to as “unknown origin.”

If these symptoms or circumstances sound familiar to you, you should immediately schedule a visit with a medical expert.  Vision loss, retinal damage, and dark spots on your retina may be signs of adverse impacts of Elmiron.  The more exposure an individual has to Elmiron, the more likely they are to develop serious vision issues.

At O’Connor Law, we wish to update you on the phases of shutdown affecting counties throughout the state. We hope everyone continues to stay safe as they can as the economy reopens.  Since the COVID-19 spread among Pennsylvania, all the counties in Pennsylvania have been quarantined under 3 different phases, which are red, yellow and green. During March and April of 2020, all of the counties in PA entered the red phase, the most restrictive stage, due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. As the situation has stabilized throughout the state, a large amount of counties in Pennsylvania are transitioning from the red phase to the yellow and green phases. The transition of the yellow and green phases are the next steps for Pennsylvanians to return to work safely without being harmed by the virus.

Here are the guidelines for the yellow and green phases:

Yellow Phase

Contact Information