No Safeguards, No Enforcement, No Recourse: How Trump’s Deregulatory Agenda Is a Workplace Pandemic Disaster

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 drosen@citizen.org.

OSHA HASN’T ISSUED ANY CITATIONS FOR CORONAVIRUS-RELATED COMPLAINTS: Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued zero citations related to the coronavirus and hasn’t offered any timetable for doing so. Although OSHA has failed to issue a standard covering airborne diseases (see below), the “general duty” of the Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the agency authority to address workplace hazards in the absence of a specific standard. OSHA’s lax approach to enforcement makes more vital than ever workers’ ability to hold companies accountable in court and the incentive created by state tort law for employers to operate a safe workplace.

TRUMP’S DEREGULATORY AGENDA KILLED A PANDEMIC SAFEGUARD ESSENTIAL TO PROTECTING HEALTH CARE WORKERS: From 2010 to 2016, OSHA worked to develop a rule to address the risk to workers exposed to infectious diseases in health care and other related high-risk environments. OSHA planned to issue a proposed rule in the fall of 2017, after which it would accept and consider public comment and then issue a final rule. But in the spring of 2017, the Trump administration abandoned the effort. A rule would have addressed planning, training and requirements for personal protective equipment to handle surges of sick patients, such as the nation has experienced over the past three months. At a recent U.S. Senate hearing on corporate immunity, all the witnesses and many of the senators present agreed that the federal government should issue strong, enforceable, science-based health and safety standards. Yet OSHA shows no interest in doing so.

CORPORATE IMMUNITY + FORCED ARBITRATION = NO JUSTICE FOR HARMED WORKERS: Even without giving corporations immunity for coronavirus-related harms, businesses have been avoiding accountability for injury to workers and consumers by imposing forced arbitration clauses with class-action bans. A recent study found that forced arbitration already blocks at least 56% of nonunion private-sector workers from bringing cases against their employers in court, including in nearly two-thirds of low-wage workplaces. Within five years, more than 80% of nonunion private-sector workers likely will be forced to resolve disputes with employers in private arbitration, without the benefit of a judge or jury. The push for immunity from liability is part of a broader effort to insulate corporations from accountability to the public and prioritize profits over people.