Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

Mayor Svante Myrick '09 called for federal support to prevent an economic crisis in Ithaca.

March 13, 2020

Uncertainty Swirls for Ithaca Workers; Myrick ’09 Calls for Swift Federal Action and Calls on Cornell to Help

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This post has been updated.

Myrick ’09 calls for federal support, universal basic income
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said on Friday afternoon that it’s “very wise” for Cornell to continue taking proactive steps, but expressed concern about the impact the departure of Cornell students will have on Ithaca’s economy.

“I also think it’s going to have a devastating effect on the local economy that I implore Cornell to help us mitigate,” Myrick told The Sun.

“If the worst happens, we’re looking at layoffs, vacancies, people defaulting on loans,” Myrick said, adding that he was confident the worst-case scenario could be avoided with support from the federal government.

Paid leave and tax credits are “fine and good,” Myrick said, but the mayor called for further action in the form of temporary universal basic income and a $1 trillion stimulus package. A UBI program, Myrick said, should give a thousand dollars per month to everyone for the next three months.

Myrick said he’s been included on daily briefing calls with New York State, praising Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) for his “proactive” steps. Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Saturday. But the mayor is still hoping for federal support. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at a Friday afternoon press conference.

“I’ve come to expect very little useful info from President Trump and I’m never disappointed,” Myrick said.

Solutions in the works for campus employees 
Cornell employees will continue to receive their regular pay as units shift to remote work plans, President Martha E. Pollack announced on Friday.

Before Friday’s announcement that classes were suspended effective at 5 p.m., Cornell told student workers that they are permitted to work until the start of spring break, but the University was still working on a post-spring break solution. Cornell will remain open, so employees with jobs related to housing and dining “may continue to work with us,” the University’s webpage says, adding that students should be in touch with their supervisors.

In Friday afternoon’s announcement, Pollack said units across the university are working on finalizing plans for remote work. Those plans must be implemented by Friday, March 20.

“As soon as a unit’s remote work plan is finalized and approved by the college/unit leader, employees whose responsibilities can be carried out remotely are expected to transition to remote work,” Pollack’s email said. “We expect that, with few exceptions, all employees will continue to receive their regular pay during this time.”

Later on Friday, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi said in an email to students that “students on Federal Work Study will be able to continue working — either on campus or remotely — until the conclusion of the semester.”

Lombardi wrote that the University would provide information to other student employees “as soon as it is available.”

Businesses brace for impact
Joe Sammons, the executive director of Challenge Workforce Solutions in Ithaca, said on Friday that Challenge — a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find employment — will struggle to provide clients employment in response to changes at Cornell and Ithaca College.

Although Cornell dining halls will stay open, according to the University, the switch from reusable to disposable plates, cups and flatware means workers with disabilities responsible for washing dishes will be transferred to alternate employment. It’s another example of the COVID-19 outbreak’s economic impact and its disproportionate effect on marginalized communities.

Challenge has a partnership with Cornell, which employs Challenge clients as dishwashers at Robert Purcell Community Center and Willard Straight Hall. The changes in dining services is forcing Challenge to “repurpose” staff into other roles, according to Sammons. Sammons said about 20 jobs will be repurposed, while some layoffs might occur.

“We’re going to make sure as many people as we can still get a paycheck,” Sammons told The Sun.

The upcoming months — usually two of the most profitable months for retail and tourism in Ithaca and a time many businesses rely on for around half of their revenue, Myrick said — will be hard for Sammons’ agency, which is paid to coach workers. He said there will be fewer people to coach in jobs in retail and tourism.

Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner, industrial and labor relations, told The Sun that Cornell’s proactive steps will prevent a crisis, one whose effects would be borne mostly by workers.

“If 20,000-plus students remained when COVID-19 comes to Ithaca, the crisis will rapidly escalate into the nightmare situation it is now in Italy,” Bronfenbrenner wrote in an email on Friday. “When it does, it is Ithaca’s front line workers in food service, janitorial, retail, education, social services and health care who would bear the brunt of it.”

In addition to banning events with more than 500 attendees, Cuomo on Thursday ordered all places of business with less than 500 individuals in attendance to cut capacity by 50 percent, effective Friday afternoon. Service workers scrambled to comply with the order, which they heard about right before Friday’s dinner rush.

Myrick, businesses call on Feds, Cornell for assistance
After calling for state and federal intervention to prevent dire economic impacts earlier this week, Myrick said on Twitter that consumers can help workers and small business owners by buying local and helping lobby for state and federal stimulus.

While they hope the city can help, two business owners told The Sun earlier this week that any intervention to help curb the effects of Cornell’s move to online classes would have to come from the state or federal government, or from the University itself.

“You have campuses like Amazon which sent all [its] employees home, who [are] supporting all the businesses around them and giving out money and giving out loans,” Collegetown Bagels owner Gregar Brous told The Sun on Thursday. “So I think it’s going to be dependent on Cornell or the big institutions that are going to think about how they want to help provide for the local economy and for the business.”

“I don’t think the city is, you know, it’d be nice if they had a lot of spare cash, but chances are, anything that the city provides is going to have to come from higher up from the state or Feds,” Brous added.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on a plan to provide paid sick leave and tax credits to businesses on Friday, The New York Times reported. Tom Reed, the representative for New York’s 23rd district, voted for the emergency relief package, which passed 363-40.

The relief deal includes 14 days of paid sick leave and tax credits to help businesses fulfill that mandate, along with enhanced unemployment benefits, additional food aid and federal funds for Medicaid, the Times reported. The bill, which awaits passage in the Senate, also provides free virus testing for people without insurance.

In his Friday afternoon press conference, Trump said “we don’t think [the Democrats] are giving enough” when asked about an update on negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a possible package.

But Pelosi and the administration reached an agreement, and the president announced his support for the deal on Twitter, signaling his intent to sign it “ASAP!” upon its passage in the Senate.

In his press conference on Friday, Trump also said that the Small Business Administration is “stacked with money” to help small businesses.