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Advocates hail deal to protect workers, hold corporations accountable for workplace Covid-19 safety

Intense campaign conveyed Michiganders’ support for worker safety to legislators

Last Thursday, Michigan Senate Republicans seized the opportunity handed to them by the state Supreme Court when it invalidated many of Gov. Whitmer’s executive orders related to the pandemic.  They tried to tie continuing payments to unemployed Michiganders to allowing corporations to escape responsibility when they violate COVID-19 safety regulations, a major priority of the state’s corporate lobbyists.  The original version of the business immunity bill required workers infected with Covid19 due to lax safety in their workplaces seeking redress to prove the nearly impossible standard of “gross negligence,” meaning that their boss essentially intended to harm them. 

It appeared that the House, and then the Governor, would be forced to choose between Michiganders’ unemployment payments and worker safety.

"Republican legislators are holding Michiganders' unemployment insurance hostage,” said Ryan Bates, Executive Director of the Michigan People’s Campaign, in response to the proposal last week. “The ransom they demand is immunity from lawsuits for corporations who put their workers and customers at risk in pursuit of higher profits."

After a flurry of activity by advocates, including thousands of phone calls to lawmakers’ constituents, Republican legislators seem to have blinked. A late-night deal was struck to undo the tie-bar linking unemployment payments to corporate COVID-19 immunity, and the immunity legislation was significantly modified to preserve protections for workers.

“Governor Whitmer deserves great credit for standing up for the unemployed and protecting the safety of front-line workers who are making huge sacrifices during this pandemic,” said Bates, “Her leadership is putting public health and workplace safety ahead of corporate giveaways. This is a big win for working Michiganders during this unprecedented and challenging time.”

At Michigan United, we’re proud of Tuesday’s vote. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Michiganders will continue to receive their unemployment payments during the pandemic, and corporations remain accountable for protecting vulnerable front line workers. Advocacy and progressive leadership won the day.

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