Missouri Minute: Metros could extend shutdowns; essential workers seek protections

Good morning, MBA readers,

Missouri’s recent stay-at-home order means there are now two kinds of workers: those who are advised to stay home, and those who are asked to brave the pandemic to ensure a continuous flow of essential goods and services to the public. Roughly a month after the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, tensions are running high as some of these essential workers demand better pay and working conditions.

Perhaps the loudest of these voices is that of hospital workers — doctors and nurses, as well as non-medical staff. The latter group in particular, including janitors who sanitize patient rooms, has raised concerns about adequate pay. After successfully negotiating with St. Louis University Hospital for furlough pay for workers who are under self-quarantine due to COVID-19, a union of hospital workers is now pushing the hospital for 1.5 times normal wages as hazard pay. While hospitals face diminished revenue because of the pandemic, Missouri has received at least $618 million in federal funds earmarked for hospital relief, opening up the possibility of help for hospital workers.

Also among the chorus calling for employee protections are Missouri retail workers, thousands of whom are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655. The union has called for Gov. Mike Parson to mandate protections for its workers, but he has declined. One proposed safeguard would require Missourians to wear face masks while shopping. The union also asked Parson to give people working at these stores priority access to personal protective equipment and test kits, given their higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Further up the supply chain, a group representing truckers who help keep those stores stocked has taken issue with drivers’ lack of protection and inability to self-quarantine while on the road.


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From our newsroom

State officials urge manufacturers to meet ‘pressing need’ for protective gear
Amid the coronavirus, Missouri officials are trying to facilitate connections between the state’s manufacturers and medical facilities to help fill the unmet demand for personal protective equipment.

Following floods, lingering levee damage complicates calculus for farmers
The abnormally high levels of rainfall that caused havoc last year continue to have an impact for farmers this year, with the condition of levees in the state complicating decisions farmers had to make regarding crop insurance.

‘I do’ deferred: Virus disrupts weddings at important time for vendors
Engaged couples and wedding vendors alike have been forced to adjust by the spread of the pandemic and the resulting cancellation of events. For some businesses, potential revenue is being deferred or is disappearing altogether during one of the busiest times of the year for weddings.


Stay alert

Metros could extend coronavirus shutdowns
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said shutdown orders in the area could be extended another one to three weeks, but he opposed closing businesses through early June. Officials in St. Louis expressed similar sentiments amid the pandemic, with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page calling for a shutdown until at least May. A statewide stay-at-home order is set to expire April 24. (Kansas City Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

As Missouri realtors adjust their business, economists forecast home sales downturn
Some economists warn that home sales could drop as much as 35% in the months ahead before bouncing back in the fall. So far, the wide-reaching shutdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic have not completely paralyzed the housing market in St. Louis, but realtors and businesses have adjusted how they show and inspect homes. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Missouri remains unprepared to process self-employed benefits claims
People who are self-employed or independent contractors may be prematurely denied expanded federal unemployment benefits, as the state awaits a system upgrade needed to process applications from those workers. The state has not yet outlined when the workers will be able to file for benefits, which were made available by Congress as part of its coronavirus relief package. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Union head blames Parson for not protecting grocery workers
David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, has renewed his calls for Gov. Mike Parson to take additional measures protecting essential retail workers, such as requiring shoppers to wear masks in stores. The union has also asked Parson to temporarily classify grocery workers as first responders so they can more quickly acquire personal protective gear, but Parson has rejected those requests. (KMOV)

St. Louis hospital staff call for coronavirus hazard pay
The SEIU Healthcare Missouri union is calling on St. Louis University Hospital to give hazard pay for non-nursing hospital workers. Last month, the union and the hospital reached a deal allowing expanded sick pay for these workers, many of whom risk exposure to the coronavirus at work. (St. Louis Public Radio)

KCI’s new $1.5 billion terminal is insulated from COVID-19 shocks, analysts say
Airlines have slashed flights at Kansas City International Airport, but the airport itself maintains a reserve of $145 million in cash. KCI already has a favorable interest rate on existing bonds for its single-terminal project and anticipates air travel will recover by the time it completes the remaining $500 million in financing in 2021. (KCUR)

Companies reach deal expanding rural Missouri broadband
The agreement will allow internet service provider Wisper ISP to use telecom firm Sho-Me Technologies’ existing fiber optic network to expand broadband access in rural Missouri. Illinois-based Wisper received $220 million in federal funding to expand access in the state. (Missourinet)

LMI Aerospace furloughs over 300 across state due to COVID-19
The St. Charles-based supplier for Boeing has furloughed 140 employees from two St. Charles facilities, 80 in Washington, Missouri, and another 87 in Cuba, Missouri. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

UMSL interim chancellor gets permanent appointment
Kristin Sobolik, who became interim chancellor last year, has been named to the post permanently, capping a national search. (Columbia Missourian)

KC-area hospital abruptly closes
Pinnacle Regional Hospital and its satellite clinics across Missouri have shuttered, laying off more than 100 employees. A notice to employees cited “unforeseen” disruptions from the COVID-19 outbreak. The Overland Park, Kansas-based hospital had remained open after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February. (KCUR)

KC relief fund rolls out $2.6 million in aid to nonprofits
The Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund announced its first round of grant funding totaling more than $2.6 million for 56 local nonprofits. Allocations included $580,000 for health care access, $520,000 for housing assistance, $493,000 for food security and $1 million for other critical services. (Kansas City Business Journal)

OTC raises tuition, offers buyouts for faculty and staff
Facing an 8% funding cut from the state, the Ozarks Technical Community College Board of Trustees voted Monday to raise tuition by $3 to $4 per credit hour, reversing its earlier plan to keep tuition level. To further plug the budget shortfall, OTC also plans to offer voluntary buyouts for up to a dozen senior employees. (Springfield News-Leader)

St. Louis VC firm plans new sports incubator
Stadia Ventures is partnering with MassChallenge, an international network of accelerators, to launch a new sports tech incubator program, which is expected to unveil its initial cohort in late May. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Varsity Tutors launches virtual summer camp in latest COVID-19 response
The Clayton-based education technology startup on Monday unveiled a free program featuring live instruction for children ages 5 to 18. Last month, Varsity Tutors launched a free remote learning program for K-12 students in response to school closures across the country. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Springfield foundation issues $80,000 in coronavirus relief grants
Community Foundation of the Ozarks has awarded its second round of pandemic relief funds to seven nonprofits. Last month, the foundation pledged $1 million in coronavirus relief. (Springfield Business Journal)


Say that again

“Congress should help our businesses rehire every worker who has already lost a job because of the coronavirus.”

That’s U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post. Hawley wrote that 80% of wages for U.S. workers, up to the national median wage, should be covered by the federal government until the pandemic ends. He said the goal should be to decrease unemployment and save jobs for workers until the country’s economy opens up again. Hawley also talked about his plan with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday. Missouri’s junior senator said he had spoken with “a number of people in the White House” about his ideas, but did not confirm whether he had actually discussed it with President Donald Trump.


Go figure

$500

That’s how much the average visitor spends in Columbia during commencement weekend, the Columbia Missourian reports. With the University of Missouri’s spring commencement canceled, Columbia businesses accustomed to enjoying one of the year’s busiest weekends around graduation will instead see empty seats and closed doors. Local restaurants, hotels, floral shops and bookstores all anticipate lower revenues this year due to COVID-19, especially after losing one of Columbia’s most profitable weekends.


Send tweet


Tributes to the short-lived St. Louis BattleHawks, like this one from St. Louis sports media personality Michelle Smallmom, have proliferated on social media the past few days. The XFL, the fledgling football league owned by a subsidiary of World Wrestling Entertainment, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday, days after suspending operations and laying off most of its employees. The move ended the XFL’s attempt at a reboot after five games and was greeted by disappointment in St. Louis. The league’s bankruptcy filing said it owes as many as 5,000 creditors up to $50 million. That includes $1.6 million to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which is struggling with cash flow amid the pandemic, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.


Hello, my name is

Bob Hermann

The St. Louis icon died Monday at age 97, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Hermann was a businessman and philanthropist who over the years was recognized as St. Louis Man of the Year and Citizen of the Year. He founded Fair St. Louis and Hermann Companies, part of which was sold to Staples. He served on boards for the Muny, the St. Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Hermann co-owned the St. Louis Stars soccer team in the 1960s and ’70s. The Hermann Trophy, an annual award given to the top college soccer players in the country, was funded by Hermann and named for him, and he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001.


It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning.


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