CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY, NOT IMMUNITY
Welcome to the latest edition of “Corporate Accountability, Not Immunity,” a daily tipsheet highlighting key news and important facts on why Congress should not give corporations legal immunity from coronavirus-related harms to workers, consumers, patients and the public. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, we are rebutting misleading claims made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies who are calling for Congress to enact a bill making business immune from coronavirus-related liability to workers, consumers and patients.
YES, THE CHAMBER IS ASKING FOR IMMUNITY. The Chamber claims in the press that it is not asking for “immunity” but for a “safe harbor” for businesses to provide them “relief” from an anticipated “flood” of litigation. The details tell a different story. The Chamber has lobbied for legal immunity for decades, using as excuses crises more imagined than real. Now it is using the tragedy of a pandemic, recycling the same arguments to play on people’s fears about the economy. But the ability of workers, patients and consumers to hold companies accountable for harm has not impeded our strong economy in the past, and immunizing businesses will not restore our economy today.
NO, THE CHAMBER IS NOT ASKING FOR A NARROW BILL. Although the Chamber describes the immunity it seeks as targeted, the Chamber’s idea of a narrow bill is one that exempts businesses from laws of all 50 states that provide a path for people to seek a remedy in court for harm caused by someone else’s wrongful conduct. If anyone believes that’s a targeted request, we have a bridge to sell you.
HEALTH STANDARDS REQUIRE ALMOST NOTHING OF BUSINESSES. The Chamber argues that Congress should, in particular, immunize employers who follow public health guidance. However, existing federal guidelines require almost nothing of businesses. Federal worker protection agencies are asleep at the wheel, cutting back on enforcement and failing to provide safety standards. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has substantially stepped back from its role of protecting the health and safety of workers during this pandemic and is relying on employers to self-police. And in April, it announced that it would perform few inspections of workplaces aside from those in high-risk activities like health care and emergency response. In fact, this week, the AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit to try compel OSHA to issue an emergency standard to protect workers, because thousands of workers have been infected on the job. With the federal government AWOL, people must have recourse in the courts, to incentivize businesses to act responsibly and to pursue a remedy when they do not.