Workers Protest Casino Reopen Plans, Election Officials Prepared With PPE

May 18, 2020

The state's PPE marketplace is only open to restaurants, retail, personal services and office environments.
Credit (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 57 additional confirmed deaths over the weekend, bringing the state’s total to 1,607. The state announced more than 27,500 total confirmed cases, with more than 177,000 Hoosiers tested.

Casino Workers Scared To Return Without Health Care, Safety Standards

Employees from five casinos rallied in Indianapolis Friday, forming a “car caravan” around the Statehouse and Monument Circle. They urged lawmakers not to allow casinos to reopen until they’re given affordable health care and can ensure safety.

Caesars notified employees they plan to reopen at limited capacity the week of June 14. Representatives from the Unite Here labor union say casinos are non-essential and that the state wants them to reopen soon to collect tax revenue. 

Meanwhile, many workers say low wages and high health insurance deductibles force them to choose between health and livelihood when they fall ill. 

READ MORE: Governor Holcomb Outlines How – And Why – The State Will Reopen

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana 2020 Two-Way. Text "elections" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

Small Business PPE Marketplace Prepares To Send 12,000 Additional Orders Next Week

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation says 10,000 packages of personal protective equipment have been delivered to small businesses in the state. 

The PPE marketplace went live Wednesday. IDEC Chief of Staff Luke Bosso says it has received more than 20,000 orders.

“Through our procurement partnerships, the IDEC has been able to source enough non-medical grade PPE to be able to ship 12,000 additional orders next week,” Bosso says.

Packages include hand sanitizer, face masks and face shields, based on the number of employees.

Kroger Ends 'Hero Pay' Bonus Program, Will Offer One-Time Payments Instead

The Kroger supermarket chain is ending its so-called “hero pay” for employees continuing to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

In its place, the company will provide one-time bonuses to employees.

Kroger said in a statement Friday that full-time associates would receive $400 and part-time associates would receive $200. The “Thank You Pay” bonuses will be split between two payments on May 30 and June 18.

The head of a union representing Kroger’s workers blasted the move.

“At the beginning of this crisis, Kroger first called these workers heroes and now they have decided that they’ve stopped being heroes,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said in an emailed statement.

“This is not how we treat heroes in America,” he said.

Perrone also called the decision “inexplicable” considering the increase in sales and profits Kroger is receiving as a result of the pandemic.

In early April, the company began providing most workers a $2-an-hour pay raise.

Indiana Has Paid $1.4 Billion In Unemployment, But System Still Plagued With Issues

The Department of Workforce Development has paid out $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits since March, with about $440 million coming from the state. Meanwhile, the agency is still dealing with high call volumes and many unresolved claims. 

The agency says it has greatly increased its capacity to resolve more issues through automation and increased staffing. 

However, a single claim could have multiple issues that prevent it from being resolved, either as a payment or a denial of benefits. Many issues require contacting employers and waiting days for a response. 

In an email, a department spokesperson said it resolved 86 percent of all unemployment vouchers filed since March 8 and, of those, 89 percent were approved to receive payment. It's also paid 88 percent of self-employed workers who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. 

Secretary Of State Lawson Says Election Officials Have PPE, Prepared For Vote-By-Mail

There are 18 days left until the June primary. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson says county election officials are prepared for both in-person and vote-by-mail ballots during the pandemic. 

Lawson says her office has purchased thousands of gallons of disinfectant cleaners and hand sanitizer, and thousands of face masks and gloves for poll workers ahead of the election.

Some of the personal protective equipment will be reserved in case there is a recount in a race.

In addition to that, she says the state has dedicated more resources to encourage people to vote by mail. More than two weeks out, more than six times as many people are voting by mail in this election than in 2016. 

“This isn’t a new process. It’s just an expansion of something that clerks do every election cycle,” she says.

Allen County Superior Court Moves Toward Resuming Jury Trials

After nearly two months of little to no activity in the Allen County courthouse, the system is starting to slowly move forward. 

On Thursday, Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull announced the criminal division’s plans for the resumption of jury trials, beginning July 1.

The Indiana Supreme Court has given counties permission to resume jury trials as early as June 1. Allen County officials are working through the process slowly.

Special consideration is being given to jurors. The option to defer jury service is extended to anyone over 75, and other accommodations are available to those between the ages of 60-74.

You Asked, We Answered: COVID And Meat Processing Workers

Outbreaks at meat processing facilities have sickened workers and stalled production throughout the Midwest. Side Effects reporters Natalie Krebs (Iowa Public Radio) and Sebastián Martínez Valdivia (KBIA, Missouri), and Ohio Valley ReSource reporter Liam Niemeyer (WKMS, Kentucky) joined engagement specialist Brittani Howell on Facebook Live to talk about how the story has unfolded in their states.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.