With the majority of states beginning to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions, many Americans who've been sheltering in place for the past few weeks are now facing a difficult choice: Go back to workplaces that might not be safe, or risk being fired. They'll face similar choices at grocery stores, pharmacies, home centers, and everywhere else they go where they must rely on the precautions taken by owners, managers, and others for their safety.
Eager to fire up the economy with an election approaching, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced his intention to block a fourth stimulus bill if it does not include a provision extending broad immunity to businesses for any COVID-19 infections they cause workers or customers. If adopted, such immunity from litigation would leave us all at the not-so-tender mercies of the marketplace. Shielded from accountability and stung by lost business, too many companies would take McConnell up on his invitation to reopen without taking adequate measures to protect workers and customers.
Writing in the May 5 Waco Tribune-Herald, CPR Board Member Thomas McGarity lays bare the real cost of McConnell's efforts. He writes,
As the deadly coronavirus spread across the country, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, field workers, meat packers, janitors and other essential workers showed up for work to provide the goods and services needed by those of us able to shelter in place. Many performed, and are still performing, their jobs in workplaces providing few if any protections against contracting the disease….
Given the Trump administration’s demonstrated reluctance to promulgate and enforce standards to protect workers and consumers, state common law litigation may be the only way to hold companies accountable for the sickness and death that they cause. Taking away the threat of liability will destroy a powerful incentive for companies to protect their workers, their consumers, and their neighbors from this invisible killer.
You can read the entire op-ed here.