The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, wants Congress focused on fighting what he calls the "second pandemic." Fortunately Mitch already has a vaccine for this contagion.
Mitch is worried that some employers are worried about the health and safety of returning workers and customers. What worries them is that these companies might be held liable.
The biggest obstacle, as he sees it, is not a deadly disease but rapacious trial lawyers, capitalizing on the virus to chase ambulances and bankrupt American businesses.Only in Amerika.
“If people don’t come and businesses are afraid to open because of the lawyers that are lurking on the curbside outside their doors, we won’t have the reopening we want,” he said late last month. He warned of “years of endless lawsuits” from employees and customers flooding the courthouses with claims that a business’s negligence infected them with the virus. He’s called this supposed wave of litigation a “second pandemic.”
As Congress gears up for the next installment of its stimulus package, Mr. McConnell has drawn a line: No more money for anyone until businesses get immunity from liability during the pandemic. The demands being debated include making it harder to claim that a business is at fault for a worker’s or customer’s infection, protecting businesses that are making personal protective equipment like masks for the first time, and protecting employers against privacy lawsuits if they disclose a worker’s infection.
There's your problem.
The problem is that immunity doesn’t just shield the worst actors; it also punishes the best, by giving a competitive advantage to the businesses that decide to cut corners at the expense of worker and customer health and safety.
Consider what happened in Utah, which passed a bill immunizing businesses from pandemic-related litigation in most cases and issued only advisory guidelines. The next day, the Utah Press Herald reported that two businesses had told their employees to disregard the guidelines, and even ordered those who had tested positive for the coronavirus to report to work. At one of the businesses, nearly half of all employees tested positive.
In Missouri, a meatpacking plant operated by Smithfield Foods was sued by a worker and a local advocacy group for creating a public nuisance by forcing employees to work at high speed, in close quarters and without necessary safety gear. The complaint said workers couldn’t even cover their mouths when they coughed out of fear of missing a piece of meat coming down the line. Another Smithfield plant, in South Dakota, was shut down after briefly becoming the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spot.
From nursing homes to Amazon warehouses to federal prisons, workers are getting sick because their bosses didn’t take necessary safety precautions.
Demands for more corporate immunity have always been at odds with the facts on the ground. But in the coronavirus era, the Republican Party’s push has turned reality upside down.