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Republican Senate Holds Unemployment Payments Hostage to Protect Irresponsible Corporations from Law

Many Michiganders set to lose unemployment benefits unless corporations’ demands are met

Republicans in the state legislature are seizing the opportunity handed to them after the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated many of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders related to the pandemic. They are now demanding that corporations that operate below safety standards be immune from COVID-related lawsuits as a condition for reinstating some unemployment payments.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans passed a bill that puts in place many (though not all) of the provisions in Governor Whitmer’s executive orders expanding access to unemployment.  However, they tied the unemployment protections to a corporate lawsuit immunity bill, long a priority of the state’s corporate lobbyists.  This forces the House to choose between denying Michigan workers their unemployment insurance or denying them safe workplaces.

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

Without the executive orders, many Michigan workers will lose their unemployment payments which had been expanded by Governor Whitmer. These include workshare payments that allow employers to cut hours and keep employees; the extension of benefits from 20 to 26 weeks; unemployment benefits for people who have had more than one job in the previous 18 months.  Moreover, failure to revive other provisions of Whitmer’s orders endangers Michigan’s eligibility to receive Federal funds that have supplemented state unemployment payments.

The ransom for continuing unemployment benefits is a package of bills (Senate bills 1022, 1023, and 1024) that allows corporations to operate below prescribed safety protocols and escape responsibility. Workers would have to prove the nearly impossible standard of “gross negligence,” meaning that their boss essentially intended to harm them. Merely “ordinary” negligence of health and safety seems just fine by Republican legislators.

Senate approval sends the bills back to the Michigan House of Representatives. The House should reject this corrupt bargain, and not force Michigan workers to accept unsafe working conditions as the price for unemployment insurance during the worst pandemic and economic recession in 100 years.

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