Workers, Teachers Are on Their Own as Pandemic Worsens

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 drosen@citizen.org.

TEACHERS WORRIED ABOUT SCHOOLS REOPENING: President Donald Trump and his allies are pushing for schools to reopen in the fall, but teachers are worried about catching COVID-19 at school or spreading the coronavirus to their families. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos indicated that anything less than five days a week of in-person instruction would be unacceptable to her and threatened to cut federal funding for public schools that don’t meet her expectations – while also emphasizing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for schools are only voluntary. Instead of working to develop and enforce strong standards to keep students and staff safe, the administration is pushing to exempt schools from accountability if they fail to take reasonable precautions. The administration is doubly wrong: We need both strong safety standards and state-law liability standards to keep people safe.

OSHA STILL DOING LITTLE TO PROTECT WORKERS: Most American workers depend on state and federal authorities to enforce laws about workplace safety. Right now, though, workers are largely on their own. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has taken a laissez-faire approach to the pandemic – issuing only voluntary guidelines on workplace safety with few consequences for employers who choose not to follow them. As a result, some restaurants aren’t abiding by occupancy limits, social distancing isn’t being enforced in distribution centers where there are already a high number of positive cases, and grocery stores are allowing customers to enter without masks. Particularly in the absence of meaningful federal action, accountability under state law is of paramount importance – both to incentivize businesses to prioritize safety over profits and to provide compensation for harm caused by failure to take reasonable steps to protect people. Proposals to give businesses immunity from accountability should be clear non-starters.

FLORIDA SETS NEW RECORD IN SINGLE-DAY INCREASES IN POSITIVE CASES: Florida hit a grim milestone Sunday, shattering the national record for a state’s largest single-day increase in positive COVID-19 cases. In Florida, where parts of Walt Disney World reopened on Saturday, 15,299 people tested positive, for a total of 269,811 cases, and 45 deaths, according to state Department of Health statistics reported Sunday. California held the previous record of daily positive cases – 11,694, set on Wednesday. Deaths from the virus have been rising across the U.S., especially in the South and West, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Eliminating corporate accountability would give a green light to careless action that would make things even worse.