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. Also refer to our tipsheet on misleading claims from industry groups and conservative lawmakers. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALEC LOBBYING FOR CORPORATE IMMUNITY: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Koch family-funded corporate advocacy group, is developing a model bill for state legislatures granting corporations immunity from liability for harms related to the coronavirus. Finding a way to shield corporations from coronavirus-related lawsuits at the state and federal levels has been a top priority for both ALEC and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in recent months, and a longtime goal for corporate America going back decades. Their current proposals would grant immunity to corporations that cause harm, even when they have done nothing at all to protect workers, consumers and patients.
BUSINESSES SUE CONSUMERS FAR MORE OFTEN THAN CONSUMERS SUE BUSINESSES: A recent Pew study found that the “[c]ivil caseloads dropped more than 18 percent from 2009 to 2017” even though more than half of all U.S. households experienced one or more legal issues that could have gone to court. But while there is no flood of consumer lawsuits, there is plenty of litigation: businesses suing consumers. According to the same Pew study, debt-collection lawsuits by businesses against consumers “dominate” state courts, to the point that about one quarter of all state civil cases are debt-collection suits. In other words, corporate immunity proposals are based on the false claim that individuals are inundating the courts with lawsuits against businesses, when the reverse is true. As the economy continues to suffer and people have difficulty paying their bills, expect businesses to continue hypocritically using the courts for their own benefit while seeking to curtail those same rights for individuals.
CORPORATIONS USING FORCED ARBITRATION TO AVOID EMPLOYEE LAWSUITS: Granting corporations legal immunity would allow them to force workers to choose between their safety and their livelihood. But some companies don’t seem to be having much trouble doing that anyway. The Container Store is demanding that employees give up their right to a day in court as a condition of returning to work. “This job offer is contingent upon agreeing to our Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate which we will ask you to sign on your first day on the Payroll website,” a form letter said. It also stated that if the employee didn’t report to work as scheduled, the company would “report your termination as a voluntary resignation” to the state, possibly jeopardizing unemployment benefits. Many workers may have little choice but to sign away their legal rights to avoid financial ruin. Do corporations that force workers to give up their right to go to court also need immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits by those same employees? Republicans in Congress apparently think so.