Group Letter to Congress Opposing Business Immunity

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

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April 29, 2020

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Minority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer:

The undersigned organizations fully support the nation’s safe economic recovery. For that reason, we strongly oppose any legislation that would establish nationwide immunity for businesses that operate in an unreasonably unsafe manner, causing returning workers and consumers to risk COVID-19 infection. Removing legal accountability for businesses not only would jeopardize the health and safety of workers, it would also jeopardize everyone who enters those workplaces. This would be extremely damaging to the nation’s economic recovery. 

Any recovery requires the public to have confidence that businesses are operating as safely as possible. Establishing legal immunity for businesses that operate unsafely would do the opposite of instilling public confidence. Instead, it would introduce new anxieties to an already highly-anxious public. And it would have real-life consequences for every community, since legal liability is one of the most powerful incentives we have to ensure that businesses operate safely.  When workplaces are not properly protected, patients, customers, clients, and the community are all at risk. 

This concern is not hypothetical. Some essential businesses have already put employees back in the workforce without ensuring their safety.[1] As a result, infections have spread in and out of the workplace.[2] In some cases, this has led to renewed shutdowns, slowing the pace of recovery.[3] From protecting the food supply chain to preventing needless deaths in nursing homes,[4] it is clear that companies responsible for the health and safety of others must continue having every incentive to protect them. Many companies already had serious safety problems prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic cannot be an excuse for failing to protect workers and the public.

Moreover, greatly compounding the problem are recent trends toward deregulation and lax regulatory enforcement of workplaces.[5] The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has substantially stepped back from its role to protect the health and safety of workers during this pandemic, and is dangerously relying on employers to self-police.[6] Under these circumstances, the specter of unsafe workplaces is a significant concern. Without adequate protective equipment and other safety measures, workers will be deterred from coming back to work. Immunity would only exacerbate these problems.

In sum, we strongly oppose any legislation that would immunize businesses that fail to ensure safe workplaces. For any questions or follow-up, please contact Joanne Doroshow, Center for Justice & Democracy, [email protected], or Remington A. Gregg, Public Citizen, [email protected].

Very sincerely,

AFL-CIO

African American Ministers In Action

Alfred E Smith Houses Resident Association, Inc.

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas

Alliance for Justice

American Association for Justice

American Museum of Tort Law

American Muslim Health Professionals

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

A Better Balance

BiNet USA

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League

CAARMA Consumer Advocates Against Reverse Mortgage Abuse

California Employment Lawyers Association

California Reinvestment Coalition

Center for American Progress

Center for Auto Safety

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Disability Rights

The Center for HIV Law and Policy

Center for Justice & Democracy

Center for Popular Democracy

Center for Progressive Reform

Center for Science in the Public Interest

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Chapel Hill Organization for Clean Energy

Citizen Works

Consumer Action

Consumer Assistance Council, Inc.

Consumer Federation of America

Consumer Federation of California

Consumer Reports

Consumer Watchdog

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Cortland County Mutual Aid Network

Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc.

Demos

Earthjustice

Economic Policy Institute

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC)

Environmental Working Group

Equal Voice Action

Equality California

Equality North Carolina

Essential Information

Farmworker Association of Florida

Florida Silver Haired Legislature, Inc

Food & Water Action

Freedom Network USA

Friends of the Batiquitos Lagoon

Futures Without Violence

Georgia Watch

Housing and Economic Rights Advocates

Impact Fund

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Justice for Migrant Women

Justice in Aging

Largo Florida Civic Association

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Legal Aid at Work

Long Term Care Community Coalition

Main Street Alliance

Minority Veterans of America

Modern Military Association of America

Mohegan Congregational Church and Inmate Legal Aid Program

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc (LDF)

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care

National Consumers League

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

National Council of Jewish Women

National Employment Law Project

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Equality Action Team

National Lawyers Guild

National Lawyers Guild-Mass Chapter

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Women's Health Network

National Women's Law Center

National Workrights Institute

Natural Resources Defense Council

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New America's Open Technology Institute

New Economics for Women

Northwest Workers' Justice Project

NYPIRG

Oasis Legal Services

OHS Section, American Public Health Association

Partnership for Working Families

People For the American Way

People’s Parity Project

Positive Women's Network-USA

Pride at Work

Protect All Children's Environment

Public Citizen

Public Justice

Public Rights Project

Rights & Democracy NH

Rights & Democracy VT

Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Shriver Center on Poverty Law

Silver State Equality-Nevada

South Carolina Appleseed

SPLC Action Fund

Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice

Texas Watch

Towards Justice

Ujima Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community

U.S. PIRG

Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

Workplace Fairness

 


[1] Zach Montague, Coronavirus Cases at D.C. Whole Foods Highlight Risks Facing Grocery Workers, New York Times (April 15, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/us/politics/coronavirus-grocery-workers-washington.html.

[2] Rachel Abrams, Spectrum Employees Are Getting Sick Amid Debate Over Working From Home, New York Times (April 21, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/business/spectrum-employees-coronavirus.html.

[3] Christopher Collins and Sophie Novack, COVID-19 Cases Now Tied to Meat Plants in Rural Texas Counties Wracked with Coronavirus, Texas Observer (April 22, 2020), https://www.texasobserver.org/east-texas-coronavirus-chicken/?fbclid=IwAR1im8139ixuHyclCFHDxDeSi-6do82msm_85DSkBRE8rxBzHZqfwjsfkSY; and Lisa KaczkeSmithfield Foods Now Largest Coronavirus Hot Spot in US, CDC in Sioux Falls to Investigate, Sioux Falls Argus Leader (April 15, 2020), https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/15/cdc-sioux-falls-smithfield-foods-becomes-largest-coronavirus-hotspot-us/5138372002/.

[4] Ben Kesslen, 17 Bodies Crowded into Tiny Morgue Found at New Jersey Nursing Home, NBC News (April 16, 2020), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/17-bodies-crowded-tiny-morgue-found-new-jersey-nursing-home-n1185121.

[5] Jeff Stein and Robert Costa, White House Readies Push to Slash Regulations as Major Part of its Coronavirus Economic Recovery Plan, Wash. Post (April 21, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/21/white-house-coronavirus-regulations/.

[6]Noam Scheiber, Protecting Workers From Coronavirus: OSHA Leaves It to Employers, New York Times (April 22, 20202), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/business/economy/coronavirus-osha-workers.html.

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