Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Republicans Seek to Use the Crisis to Assault Workers and Unions
Grim Reaper Mitch (R-KY). Mitch McConnell is back in town, which, as ever, is bad news for the future of the human race. His current crusade is to enact legislation that relieves employers from legal liability should their workers sicken and die from coronavirus contracted at their workplace. Under McConnell’s doctrine of laissez-mourir, bosses could call their employees back to work and station them six inches apart, while pumping virus-laden air through the vents.
McConnell’s strategy appears to be to withhold financial support for states and cities—currently a leading demand of Democrats and labor—unless they agree to his Get Out of Jail Free card for even the deadliest of bosses. Democrats and labor are fiercely opposing McConnell’s proposal, with unions noting, correctly, that it would allow employers to recall their workers despite manifestly unsafe conditions. But if McConnell hangs tough, as he invariably does, some version of his proposal might actually be enacted if he refuses to pass any further pandemic assistance until his bill becomes law.
Blue states might be able to end-run this de facto back-to-work mandate by adopting a proposal that labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein advanced in our recent “Future of Labor” symposium: requiring all companies with more than 25 employees to have worker safety councils that would have the power to decide whether workplaces are safe enough to open or unsafe enough to close, and to monitor safety conditions on an ongoing basis. Let’s hope our nation’s workers don’t have to work under McConnell’s diktat, but if they do, let’s hope states like California can counter some of its consequences by boosting workers’ control over their own health and lives.