John Oliver returned to his "white void" (which, he has now revealed, is actually something far darker) for the latest quarantine edition of Last Week Tonight. After covering Donald Trump's favorite new propaganda news network OAN last week, he focused this week on how coronavirus is impacting the U.S. workforce, from mass unemployment to the problems faced by essential workers.
"Things need to change and not go back to normal," Oliver said. "Ctrl-Z to how we were in 2016 is simply not gonna cut it. And honestly, it shouldn't have taken a pandemic to prove our unemployment system is a mess, that we need universal health care, and that workers need benefits, the right to organize, and wages that reflect how essential they really are. And we also shouldn't have needed a pandemic to consider whether mass incarceration is tolerable, as prisons and jails become petri dishes for the coronavirus, or whether our treatment of the homeless is adequate, when we've seen photos of them sleeping in a parking lot six feet apart, or what we do about the multiple underlying inequalities that is making this virus in some places twice as deadly for black and Latino people as whites."
He discussed the pressure and difficult decisions that many workers must make, especially because their jobs are tied to their health insurance, and this would be a very bad time to lose it. He had particular disdain for Amazon and Jeff Bezos, who have "openly waxed poetic" about these workers with cringey ad campaigns in which Amazon "patronizingly [claims] they care about the well-being of their ‘heroes.'" He also criticized the corporation for its treatment of worker Chris Smalls, who organized a walkout on Staten Island, and was quickly fired and then the proposed subject of a smear campaign.
He noted, “Congress absolutely needs to mandate all businesses provide paid sick leave in their next coronavirus paid bill on a permanent basis, as well as they require they provide significant hazard pay for any worker being asked to risk their lives. Because that risk is very, very real. Grocery store workers are dying of this disease right now, and so far, we’ve lost 41 transit workers in New York City alone.”
Oliver then concluded by getting into why having our health insurance system so tied to employment is so dangerous, and how some conservatives are still balking at any changes to the system. "What's been infuriating is that some conservatives have seemed worried that we might do too much," Oliver said, pointing to a few clips of Republicans ranting against much-needed welfare programs. "There is no better argument for a permanent welfare state than watching your government desperately try to build one when it's already too late. Because make no mistake: the real test here isn't whether or not our country will get through this—it will—the question is how we get through this, and what kind of country we want to be on the other side."