It’s time for employee and consumer advocates to speak up for COVID-19 accountability

Monday, April 27, 2020

COVID-19 has proved, once again, that the U.S. business lobby knows how to seize control of a debate before the other side has even cleared its throat.

By now, you’ve surely heard that groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Business are urging like-minded members of Congress to immunize businesses from liability as they re-open after COVID-19 shutdowns. Maybe you read a Reuters story last week, quoting a congressman who predicted near-unanimous Republican support for barring lawsuits over COVID-19 reopenings. Maybe you saw a Wall Street Journal op-ed by the CEO of Chubb, who argued that litigation over liability for the virus would cripple this country’s prospects for an “orderly recovery” from the pandemic.…

That’s about to change. Public Citizen and the Center for Justice and Democracy began circulating a letter among progressive groups on Thursday, asking them to join together to oppose legislation immunizing businesses from liability even if they operate in an unsafe matter. Remington Gregg of Public Citizen told me that more than 50 labor, consumer and environmental groups have already agreed to sign the letter, which is addressed to leaders of the House and Senate. He’s hoping to obtain signatures from another 20 before submitting the letter to Congress, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

It has not been easy, he said, to unite groups with diverse missions behind a streamlined message. But as the business lobby’s anti-litigation campaign draws attention, it’s become critical to assure that Congress hears why the economy can’t restart if workers and consumers don’t feel safe – and why the threat of lawsuits is a critical way to assure that businesses protect their employees and customers. “This is not a time to take away accountability,” Gregg said.

“It’s the only thing that keeps them honest,” added Rachel Deutsch of the Center for Popular Democracy.

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