Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

A GRTC bus driver in better times

By Peter Galuszka

At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.

Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.

GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.

Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.

In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death.

Smithfield Foods, owned by a Chinese firm, operates many large food processing plants across the country. Smithfield is the U.S. headquarters for the factories. Last month, a Smithfield meat packing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., fell into the national spotlight, when, cheered on by the state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, 853 workers were pushed on on to work despite health concerns and became infected with COVID-19. The state is 85% white but of the workers, 69% come from communities of color. This underlines when some on this blog choose to pretend is not a problem -– that many of those most exposed to the virus are blue color workers of color. When this is over, there will be a judgment about the many inequities that still trouble Virginia and the U.S.

As conservatives beat their drums to reopen the economy despite grave concerns by medical experts, there are moves in Congress to give business owners protection from liability should they be sued for forcing workers to work and they become infected or die.

The spear point in this effort is Senate Majority Mitch McConnell who just a few weeks ago was helping put together a $ trillion plus stimulus. According to The Washington Post, McConnell is being supported in this effort by the Trump administration.

So, to put this is in clear language, times are changing as those in power want to screw over their workers by avoiding responsibility for them.

This has never been more plain in Virginia which has a proud history of cheating its workers out of a living income and making it hard to exercise their Constitutional right to bargain collectively. Business Pooh-Baas in the Old Dominion brag about their right to work laws and other efforts to weaken labor from negotiating on fair terms.

With Donald Trump, who was a notorious player in labor relations while in business, it is only going to get worse.

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24 responses to “Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

  1. Well, this oughta be a good thread…….. thanks Peter.

    This is an important issue especially how it might relate to so-called non-essential business. What is the employer’s responsibility with regard to COVID19 in the workplace?

    Even for essential business, is the right path forward to basically hold the employer completely harmless on protections for workers?

    There are, right now, lawsuits being filed against nursing homes and meat packers for victims of COVID19 that was contracted at a business facility.

    So, are we going to get a law that essentially gives blanket immunity to businesses?

    • And if you give them blanket immunity, what motivations do they have to provide the safety modifications that reduce the risk of infection? I.e., plexiglass barriers, PPE, etc?

      It’s also our current essential workers, not just people going back to work.

  2. So what solutions are you providing? You expect how many hundreds of thousands of lives to be destroyed, with no rent money, no food, no job, how do you expect them to live? We’re already borrowing and borrowing and borrowing money to pay for the depression upcoming. At some point either you get out there and work as many jobs as you can to pay for those who are refused to work or realize you can get struck by lightening, a car, etc. and life is a risk. The problem is that you are moving the goalposts so badly to one side we will never recover. Second, let me know when you all show this much love and care to the elderly and disabled and say no to abortions.
    I have never seen any one on this blog chose to pretend that racial issues aren’t a problem. The problem is where are events/folks racial problems and where are problems that people can be helped to make different choices, or choices *you* want them to make for their lives. I am the only professional in my family. Rest are blue collar. I’m disgusted with folks who think that folks who choose an honorable pathway to a job that isn’t a college degreed desk job have to be rescued. I go into places and thank folks for what they do, because I appreciate it. I don’t tell them they are garbage for choosing a different job/position than I am. College isn’t for everyone, neither is being a cop or teacher, and that’s perfectly fine. We need everyones’ talents, not just professional white collar workers.

  3. VN,
    I fail to see how I am “Moving the goalposts.” Solutions? For starters don’t let employers protect themselves with a bunch of extraordinary liability excuses. Make sure workers have proper gear. These are quite obvious. And, I fail to see what abortion has to do with workplace issues.

    • Peter,

      I wish you wouldn’t play so fast and loose with the facts:

      >>making it hard to exercise their Constitutional right to bargain collectively.>>

      This is just outright false. Period. There is not, and never has been a right set out in the Constitution or any of its myriad interpretations by even the most leftist of courts, to bargain collectively. That right was established by Congressional statute (Wagner Act in 1935, as amended by Taft Hartley in 1947 and Landrum Griffin in 1959) As such, it could be repealed by statute whenever Congress had a mind, putting it on different footing than a constitutional right. Of course, if repeal occurred, any state could pass its own collective bargaining statutes since the field would no longer be pre-empted by the federal government. But Constitutional right? No.

      Before you casually declare something to be a Constitutional right, it helps to thoroughly understand the Constitution and its limits. And, if you can get yourself to refrain from misstating and expanding what’s in the Constitution, you also help to defend yourself against the charge of “Moving the Goalposts.”

  4. Good post, Peter. This is a topic that needs discussing. Unlike V N, I did not see your comments as disparaging of blue collar workers. Rather, you are calling for their protection, both physical and legal.

    There seems to be an impression that the President’s executive order declaring meat processing plants “essential infrastructure” gave companies immunity from liability suits. I reviewed the EO, but found no reference to liability. Nor do related documents on OSHA’s website address liability. I was curious if a President’s EO could override states’ tort laws. Apparently, that is what McConnel wants to do: trade federal aid for states and localities for immunity for corporations.

    The Harrisonburg area is not the only place in Virginia where COVId-19 has broken out in poultry plants. The Eastern Shore has experienced two such outbreaks. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virus-spread-at-virginia-chicken-plants-alarms-health-officials/2020/04/28/7ef459d4-898e-11ea-ac8a-fe9b8088e101_story.html

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    The case for A/I and total automation in the meat packing industry has never been stronger. I expect this to happen much sooner now. Eliminate the need for workers in this industry and everyone wins.

    I am interested to see how the business with the Eastern Shore church, the judge in Norfolk, and DOJ in DC are going to play their parts in the one act drama on freedom of religion.

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-justice-department-virginia-church-lockdown-orders/

    • Both improvements in technology and the experiences of the pandemic are going to increase the use of robots and related technology in many businesses, including warehousing and shipping, manufacturing and meat packing. When does large-scale agriculture join in?

      I’ve been working on some FCC-related issues for a project. I’m very sure I’m far from being alone.

      There will clearly be negative impacts on many blue collar jobs as well as eliminating the need for employees working here illegally.

  6. Then there are other opinions buttressed by actual facts and how the real world operates in real life, instead of the fervid imaginations of leftest reporters. For example, in the Wall Street Journal:

    “Grading the State Virus Response
    Rating governors on how they’ve handled lockdowns and reopening. By The Editorial Board
    May 3, 2020 5:00 pm ET

    The ratings give significant weight to when and how states are opening on the assumption that the longer they wait the longer their economic recessions will be. This makes sense because the longer the lockdowns the more physical and human capital is lost as businesses shut down and the connections between employer and employee are severed.

    Seven governors get an A: Jared Polis of Colorado, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Bill Lee of Tennessee, and Mark Gordon of Wyoming. Four receive an F: Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Ralph Northam of Virginia, and Tony Evers of Wisconsin.

    Consider the relative performance of Messrs. Polis and Northam, both Democrats from medium-risk states. Colorado has had 83.9 deaths per million residents and Virginia does better at 38 deaths per million. But Colorado has had a 3,361% increase in jobless claims, while Virginia’s has increased 4,487%.

    Mr. Polis lifted his state’s stay-at-home order on April 26 and restored elective procedures at hospitals on April 27. Retail stores opened for in-store customers and personal services on May 1, and nonessential offices are open to employees with staffing less than 50% on Tuesday. Mr. Northam has extended his stay-at-home order through a remarkable June 10, which will multiply the economic carnage for an unknown benefit in lives saved …”

    For more See:

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/grading-the-state-virus-response-11588539620?mod=opinion_lead_pos3

    • Ralph Northam doesn’t deserve an “F” for his performance with COVID19. He deserves a “Z”. “F” is far too high up the alphabet.

      We’ll see what King Ralph has to say at his 2:00 new conference. Maybe he can work his way up to a “Q”.

  7. How do the good people of SanFrancisco’s Chinatown – almost entirely people of color – sue Nancy Pelosi for encouraging people to come to Chinatown at the start of the outbreak? The video of her negligence is widely available. How do the families of the dead in New York City sue its Communist Mayor Bill DiBlasio for publicly discounting the danger of Coronavirus and refusing to shut down the school system because he believed shutting down the schools would be harmful to the city’s poor – particularly people of color? How do the families of Canterbury Nursing Home in Richmond sue the Virginia Department of Health for repeatedly documenting sub-standard practices without ever following up?

    Oh, right. You can’t sue the Gubmint no matter h0w badly it screws up. Heaven forbid that Gubmint be accountable for much of anything.

    The problem right now is that America’s liberals don’t even partially understand the economic consequences of this sudden shutdown. The very people liberals claim to want to protect will be the very people most hurt by the upcoming depression. I’ve seen Nancy Pelosi’s house in SanFrancisco. It’s on every sightseeing tour. Wow. Nancy won’t starve if the threat of liability shuts down the supply chain of food. The tort lawyer / donor class she’s trying to enrich won’t starve either. Far from it. They’ll be richer than ever. No, it will be the poor people of color in the urban areas hardest hit by COVID19 who will suffer. Maybe even starve.

    The economic crisis is real and it’s now. Waiting for our many governments to act is a formula for true disaster. When does our part time General Assembly expect to be back in session? Maybe this Fall? Wonderful.

    Refusing to accept that companies making critical goods (like food) will shutdown in the face of endless frivolous lawsuits is a formula for true disaster. Farmers are destroying livestock right now …

    https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/02/coronavirus-devastates-agriculture-dumped-milk-euthanized-livestock.html

    How long before the food shortages hit? Who do you think goes hungry?

    With friends like America’s liberals blue collar workers don’t need enemies.

  8. What do you expect WSJ editorial writers to say?

  9. The issue is worker safety. If we require people to work, we owe it to them to provide the proper safety equipment – or somehow make sure they can obtain it.
    The facts that President Trump not only trotted out the law he refused to use to get protective gear manufactured to declare our meat industry essential AND protected these businesses from consequences of workers suing them if those workers get sick show that workers are not considered valuable. This has gone too far.
    It’s disgusting that people are supporting giving grants and special loans to big business but don’t think workers deserve anything – but the opportunity to work at risk with no protection. Propose something to help workers and it’s leftist socialism. Propose something to help big business and it’s keeping the competitive market running. Folks aren’t even upset that tax funded relief intended to support small business got wiped out by big business before small businesses could apply!
    P.S. Trading workers for robots isn’t the solution. Workers will still need work and still deserve reasonable protections as they work.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Industry leaders see this as a solution. Maybe tax the robots and pay the ex workers to stay home and be good.

    • Clearly, workers need protective gear and related measures. I fully agree.

      But the “idea that workers” need work will stop the use of robots is immaterial. Any employee or contractor must produce more economic benefit than its costs to employ that person, at least over the longer-term. (For example, a new employee during training might cost more than she or he delivers.)

      And once the source of automation comes at a reasonable price, many jobs will go away. Think of the telephone industry. For decades, operators completed calls. Now we push a button or give a voice command. My great grandfather was a blacksmith who had the contract for shoeing the horses used by the St Paul, MN fire department.

      In less than 10 years, packing plants may employ only a fraction of the number working today.

      • It’s a simple thing. It works the same way in businesses as it does with home owners wanting lower costs also.

        Employers, especially those in competition with others, WILL adopt any/all cost-saving automation that increases productivity.

        This is the SAME “productivity” that we see with increases in GDP.

        The never ceasing goal is to produce more with less.

        It’s that way no matter whether we have a pandemic or not although with pandemics and risks to workers – it can result in more efforts to essentially separate workers from jobs that could cause injury.

        I do remember the factories with the signs out front that would say “XXX days since the last accident” so it’s not like it’s a foreign concept.

  10. Yup – in this world, protection of workers is a “liberal” idea! 😉

    so of course, the answer is “blanket immunity” – instead of all that messy stuff that requires actually thinking about the safety of the workers… just order them to go back to work, no more unemployment for you!

    On the automation and robots.

    We’re headed that way anyhow… and this will accelerate it,

    I do NOT think a “solution” is to not have automation – it’s inevitable and just like right now, we use computers to “print’ 3D…. or lumber mills that image a log then cut it up.. we’re going to see machines that image a carcass then carve it up…

  11. Life was easier when the boiler exploded and Aunt Polly worried about anyone getting injured, “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”

  12. If a law is not declared Unconstitutional – then it must be Constitutional, no?

    If your bar is that any law that is enacted is not Constitutional as default until ???? what? until challenged and ruled unconstitutional?

    I’m, trying to think of all the laws currently on the books that using your criteria would be considered “unconstitutional”.

    Can you further explain this? What makes ANY enacted law “Constitutional”?

    • Larry,

      If your going to make legal conclusions, I suggest you go to law school first. You are addressing something entirely different from the comment I made about Constitutional rights. Whether a law is constitutional addresses whether the constitution permits such a law, far different than whether the constitution protects a certain right. A Constitutional right is one that is either directly in the Constitution (Freedom of the press) or has been declared part of something explicitly set out in the Constitution.

      Not to muddy the waters, but abortion falls into this latter category. Abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, yet it has been declared to “arise” out the 14th Amendment Due Process clause. (To quote a particularly insipid old man in a sell-your-life-insurance-policy commercial, “Who knew?”) Abortion is not alone in this honor, but be that as it may, abortion is viewed as a constitutional right. By contrast, whether a statute is “constitutional” is an inquiry whether what the statute does contravenes an already existing individual right, a power of government (or lack thereof) or other feature of the Constitution. Often it is about the power of the federal government to do something that is claimed not to be a constitutional power granted to the Feds by the framers.

      • re: ” You are addressing something entirely different from the comment I made about Constitutional rights. ”

        but then you go on to address things that are legal but not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution.

        Yes – rights enumerated are more explicit and cannot be easily taken away but that whole area is a bit of a quagmire – e.g. child pornography will get you imprisoned as well as owning stinger missiles, etc…

        Most laws that get enacted, do get vetted as to their Constitutionality. It does not mean that they always end up knowing how SCOTUS will rule and you cite abortion in particular where some states are passing abortion restrictions that are ruled against by SCOTUS.

        On what basis are they ruling such abortion laws are invalid?

        If I tell you that you cannot dump acetone into a river – are you being denied your ‘rights’ since before the law against, you had that “right”?

  13. This demagogic, angry screed by BR’s DNC propagandist/activist is typically sprinkled with unsupported sweeping condemnations and attacks of his hated Republicans, Conservatives and businessmen as well as false statements and misdirects unrelated to the article’s subject, while offering no information of value.

    Unfortunately, there are some very real nuances with the liability issues which if not addressed or if exacerbated would make employing unfeasible. There is potentially a reasonable debate about the extent of the indemnification — whether it be for all negligence or just gross negligence. But not addressing this issue carefully and well could have a negative effect on employees and the public at large, as Virginia’s employers and will decide their risk is too high to allow employees on site.

    A real journalistic piece on this issue such as Sherlock’s Nursing Home analyses would be helpful and interesting to BR’s audience.

    • geeze, SGillispie… got any partisan stuff there?

      Don’t you think it the least bit interesting that the “open up now” folks
      had apparently not thought at all about this issue?

      And – is this a STATE issue or a Federal issue? Got a view?

      My understanding is that right now, there are lawsuits being filed against nursing homes… have you heard this?

      Got a view about it since you seem to agree with Sherlocks view that some of them are understaffed?

      Would you support waivers for nursing homes?

  14. Gilispie. You are a real joke.

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