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EDITORIAL: Workers, employees deserve priority in any deal for employer liability protection

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For a nation that crows long and loud about its Judeo-Christian roots and strikes a shaky pose as cherishing life, the United States has witnessed a decided cheapening of life as hardships mount in our ongoing pandemic crisis. If we aren’t careful, Republican efforts may well aggravate matters by insisting on employer liability protections while giving short shrift to employees seen as expendable, not to mention consumers.

“There will not be another [COVID-19 relief] package unless it includes liability protection,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told the Trib on Wednesday. “I think this is essential to reopening our economy, getting people safely back to work. Obviously we’re going to preserve the ability of people to sue and recover for gross negligence and willful [mis]conduct, but if people are doing their best following the guidelines of the public health officials and government officials, then they shouldn’t have to be worried about nuisance lawsuits or frivolous litigation.”

Fair enough. However, consider this week’s remarks by Marc Perrone, president of United Food & Commercial Workers International, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on which Cornyn sits: “To date, 162 of my members have tragically died. I have 25,000 that have been struck with this disease or exposed. With respect to our meat-packing and food-processing workers, we’re witnessing some of the consequences when significant steps aren’t taken early enough to protect these workers.”

Given testimony that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Trump has yet to issue enforceable orders specific to COVID-19; that his administration disregards regulations when not scuttling them; that it quashed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for safely reopening our economy — sure, bring on worthy ideas limiting frivolous lawsuits. But we also warn everyday Americans to be wary of yet another example of corporate capitalism prevailing over the common good. Lives are in the balance if it matters.

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