The effort to reopen the economy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has set off a conflict at the state and federal level that is escalating by the day over how much legal protection companies should get if their returning workers get sick, according to an Associated Press report published today (April 30) by The Goshen News.
The White House, governors, members of congress and state lawmakers are all getting pressured by business leaders who want to be shielded from potential lawsuits brought by sick workers. They are also feeling heat on the other side from unions who want bolstered safety at workplaces and from the influential trial lawyers lobby, which hopes to preserve legal protections to go after corporations in court if people are sickened on the job.
The issue has vaulted to the forefront of the debate in Congress over the next, and fifth, coronavirus relief bill that’s still in its infancy. The safety of returning workers has dominated union negotiations between casino workers and their employers in Las Vegas. And governors in some states are imposing restrictions on the ability of people to collect unemployment if they choose not to return to work out of fear for their safety.
The debate has put policymakers on the hot seat at the same time that they are moving forward with reopening their states.
Utah lawmakers have moved to protect businesses from being sued if a customer or employee is exposed to the coronavirus after reopening, with supporters like Republican Rep. Norm Thurston saying establishments need to be rewarded for being willing to open their doors again.
The proposal passed the Republican-controlled Legislature the day before Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state would allow the reopening of restaurants, gyms and salons starting Friday. The governor has not yet signed it. Skeptics like Democratic Rep. Brian King called the legislation a “get out of liability-free card.”
“If a business wants to get open and make some money, that means they have to be responsible for the safety of both their employees and the public,” King said Wednesday. “They don’t get it both ways. They don’t get to both make money and be insulated from their negligent decision-making.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is pushing the Republican-led state Legislature to expand protections from liability lawsuits to manufacturers, businesses, health care workers and first responders. Mississippi and North Carolina are considering similar protections for businesses.
“They don’t need to be concerned about liability from opportunistic people that might be trying to find a chink in their armor, to sue them for trying to do the right thing,” said chamber president Dan Mehan on Tuesday. “Lawsuit protection is paramount for this recovery.”
President Donald Trump’s executive action Tuesday (April 28) ordering meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns about the nation’s food supply also put a spotlight on the delicate balance between protecting companies without leaving workers unfairly exposed.