Senator Mike Rounds and Senate Republicans are pushing for liability protections for businesses in the new federal COVID relief package.
Rounds says it will protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Labor organizers say it will greatly impact workers across South Dakota and the country.
The way the proposal reads is that for businesses to get sued, a plaintiff would have to show gross negligence and an intentional desire to cause harm to patrons or employees.
Senate President Mitch McConnell says a new round of stimulus will not pass the senate without those protections.
That would affect businesses whose employees work in close quarters, like the Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls.
Senator Rounds says the biggest challenge protecting workers as the economy reopens.
“I’ve talked with the businesses that do the packing, and so forth, in South Dakota. They believe they’ve really been trying hard,” Rounds says. “For them, they know that if their people got sick, they’re out of business for a while, and that’s a terrible thing to have happen.”
Rounds says it doesn’t make sense that a business, like Smithfield, would intentionally put their employees in harms way.
Smithfield Foods was once the hottest spot for COVID infections in the country. Eight hundred and fifty-three employees got sick and the plant closed for three weeks.
Kooper Caraway is the AFL-CIO president in Sioux Falls.
He says the Senate seems more focused on protecting CEOs from accountability from giving employees safe working conditions.
“It’s already difficult enough for the average employer to take on their employer in court, regardless of how unsafe the positions are,” Caraway says. “For the Republicans to prioritize making it even more difficult for the average person to hold their boss accountable is really telling about where their priorities are.”
Congress and the White House are still debating the particulars of a new stimulus package.