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2020 in review: Prop 22, school shutdowns and stranded American Samoans

NewsHour Weekend’s Laura Fong discusses some of the biggest stories she reported on in 2020: How COVID-19 and school shutdowns impacted students and how hundreds of American Samoans are stranded in the U.S. for months because the island territory closed its borders. Also, California’s Prop 22, a ballot measure that app companies funded to keep their drivers as independent contractors.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

  • Michael Hill:

    As we wrap up the holiday season, we want to bring you more from our team of producers and reporters here at NewsHour Weekend. Hari Sreenivasan spoke with producer Laura Fong about some of the segments she's been working on throughout the year.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Laura, one of the things that we noticed early on, right when everything went into lockdown was schools shutting down and graduates, especially high school graduates having to deal with graduating in COVID. You did a story on that.

  • Laura Fong:

    When everything was shutting down, I immediately thought of students actually. I used to be a teacher. I did Teach for America for two years. And I thought about how are students, especially in their senior year, how are they going to deal with graduation? I found a drive-in Kentucky that was doing it and they connected me with the local high school. And I got to speak with two seniors and the mom of one of those seniors. And they were just such a special community that was trying to make this experience as special and as safe as possible.

    AIRED MAY 31, 2020: It was the first of its kind parade for Eminence High School's graduating class in Eminence, Kentucky, less than an hour east of Louisville.

  • Michele Sweeney:

    Madison heading out for our senior parade.

  • Laura Fong:

    In normal times, the students would take a ceremonial walk through the halls of school called the Senior Walk. But this year they adapted it for social distancing and called it the Senior Parade. The students were so humble they knew that they were missing out on their senior trip, which they've been looking forward to for years. But they knew that this was what they needed to do and they adapted and everyone in the whole community showed up for them.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the stories you and I did when we were all filming together in New York was about the gig economy and about how it's affecting drivers, whether the Lyft drivers or taxi drivers. And there was a big kind of election-focused story in California, Prop 22. What was it about? What happened?

  • Laura Fong:

    Prop 22 is a ballot measure that app companies like Uber, Lyft or DoorDash got on the November ballot…

    AIRED OCTOBER 4, 2020:...Have collectively put more than $180 million towards the Yes on Prop 22 campaign, making it the most expensive ballot initiative in California history.

  • Laura Fong:

    They wanted to overturn a law that the state legislature passed saying that their drivers needed to be classified as employees, giving them the protections and benefits of employees. As a result of this law passing–it did get 58 percent of the vote– they are going to be making sure that all their drivers have 120 percent of the minimum wage, which you would hope they would be getting anyways.

    But there are cases where these drivers were not getting that. It could happen in other states if Uber and Lyft lobby other states to pass a law that allows their workers there to also be considered independent contractors with these added benefits, because there are lawsuits pending in other states regarding the classification of whether or not these workers are employees.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the farthest afield that we have ever gone on is our weekend was a story that you and Mori Rothman shot out in the Rose Atoll, a tiny speck of a piece of land way out in the Pacific. You stopped in American Samoa on the way, did some stories there. And American Samoa is a place that has what, no or almost no coronavirus cases. What happens when the government decides to absolutely shut down water, which you can do a lot easier when you're an island?

  • Laura Fong:

    There's a lot of islands that have taken the stance of being extremely strict about closing its borders. And that's because of the limited medical resources that they have. The consequence of this is they have an estimated 562 residents who are stranded here in the U.S.

    Fiti Aina, AIRED NOVEMBER 28, 2020: What time you gonna come back home? When are you going to come back home?

  • Laura Fong:

    Fiti Aina is stranded 2,600 miles away from his home, his wife Danielle and their six kids.

    There is a provisional date set for the first flight. But at this point, the residents who I've spoken to, they don't know if they're going to be on that flight or if it's going to be delayed.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, a lot of our viewers don't know that you're one of the producers who are there every Saturday and Sunday dealing with the breaking news, usually kind of the lead story of the top story that we're dealing with. This has been a pretty outrageously phenomenal nine months to be in the news business. There's been so much information. Are there days that stick out to you?

  • Laura Fong:

    The first one I could think of was when John Lewis passed, we were on call when that happened and he had such an impact on so many lives.

    Shout out to Sally Garner, news editor, she wrote the obit and I pulled all the assets and cut it together. And we made it work. We are constantly just trying to keep on top of all the news conferences, especially in those early months where there was like back-to-back conferences from the White House…

    Hari Sreenivasan, APRIL 4, 2020,: Adding to the confusion, the president said he would not be wearing a mask.

  • President Trump:

    I don't think I'm going to be doing it.

  • Laura Fong:

    …from governors.

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY:

    Can we handle that number of cases at the high point of the curve?

  • Laura Fong:

    It was a lot. I'll be honest. It was–it was a blur.

    Hari Sreenivasan, MARCH 29, 2020: Federal government's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned today that the coming surge of cases in the coronavirus pandemic could cause more than hundred thousand deaths in this country.

  • Laura Fong:

    I did look back on some of our new summaries from those early days. And it is startling to think about how much of those predictions came true, if not more true. Some of the predictions of how many people were going to pass. I mean, it seemed unbelievable at the time.

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