McConnell forced to put off gutting workers rights until next year

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After giving up on including a corporate liability shield in the latest COVID-19 relief bill, Sen. Mitch McConnell says he'll work to get one next year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed in April that the Senate would not pass any pandemic relief bill that did not include a corporate liability shield that would undermine workers' rights. But on Monday night, he voted for a $900 billion compromise bill without one.

Now, after failing to stick to his "red line," he says he will try again next year.

"Let me make it perfectly clear that the Senate is not interested in passing a bill that does not have liability protection. So, that's an integral part of our economy getting back to normal," he told Fox News on April 28. "What I'm saying is, we have a red line on liability. It won't pass the Senate without it."

Such a shield would make it impossible for workers to sue their employers if they get sick on the job, even if it's due to the company's negligence.

In most states, if a customer or employee gets sick, they can sue a business only if they can demonstrate that it was had failed to take basic precautions to prevent the spread of disease. McConnell's proposed shield would have made an already steep hill virtually insurmountable.

"This actually raises the bar so high that no worker or consumer will ever be able to" meet its standard, National Employment Law Project staff attorney Hugh Baran told the American Independent Foundation in July. He noted that "Black, Latinx, and workers of color will be most directly impacted."

"This proposal strips all covid-related worker safety protections away from workers, including protection from retaliation during the worst occupational health crisis in our lifetimes," former Occupational Safety and Health Administration chief of staff and senior policy adviser Deborah Berkowitz told the Washington Post last week about the liability shield. "This bill would undermine all efforts to mitigate the spread of covid at work and back out into the public, and it will lead to more illness and death."

After refusing to bring up any pandemic relief at all from May until September, McConnell spent the past several months rejecting bipartisan pleas for a significant relief bill. Instead, he repeatedly tried — and failed — to get the Senate to pass a $500 billion "skinny" bill that included his anti-lawsuit legislation.

Congressional Democrats strongly opposed the provisions, leaving it out of House-passed relief bills and pushing to keep them out of the final compromise legislation.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) called out McConnell earlier this month for being the sole obstacle to a deal on relief: "Mitch McConnell is refusing to bring it to the floor unless it wipes away all COVID-related lawsuits filed that 'allege injury or death' due to corporate negligence. These lawsuits represent the worst of the worst examples of disregard for human life—cases filed on behalf of nursing home patients and grocery store workers who died because the company in charge of keeping them safe prioritized cutting costs over protecting them."

"Americans deserve a Covid relief package that does not put the onus on workers when big businesses ignore health guidelines in pursuit of profit," tweeted Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) last week. "We're here to protect children, families, & workers. That's the opposite of what liability protections for big corporations would do."

In the end, McConnell, reportedly concerned that failure to act would cost his party two Senate seats and control of the chamber in next month's runoff elections in Georgia, caved. The House and Senate both overwhelmingly voted to pass the compromise on Monday, with no shield included.

On Monday, McConnell told Fox News that he will "insist" on the corporate protections next time.

"I think liability relief is really important," he said. "And if there is another coronavirus relief bill after the first of the year, I'm going to insist that liability protection for these universities and health care providers is a part of it."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.