Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, died alone from COVID-19 in April. He contracted the virus at work in a Publix grocery story deli. Early in the pandemic, he asked his employer to allow him to wear a mask at work. According to Gutierrez’s family—who have filed a wrongful death suit—Publix refused his request. The chain eventually changed its stance to allow employees to wear masks, but it was too late for Gutierrez, whose adult children had to say goodbye to him on a video call. The lawsuit they brought last week includes numerous complaints made by Publix employees to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about the refusal of the grocer to allow them to use masks and gloves because they didn’t want to cause shoppers to panic.
“This is a case that needs to be prosecuted and that we need to push forward in our court system and shed light on what Publix was doing and why they were doing it,” the family’s attorney, Michael Levine, told the Tampa Bay Times. “The fact the they would chose profits over employees is shameful and disappointing.” It is shameful and disappointing and it’s how corporate America—with a big assist from Senate Republicans—operate. One of the primary poison pills for COVID-19 stimulus Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to budge from is blanket liability protections for employers like Publix to prevent suits like the Gutierrez’s. Or the suit from the family of the late Isidro Fernandez, who was killed by the virus after contracting it in a Tyson pork processing plant in Iowa—the plant where supervisors and managers were allegedly placing bets on how many workers were going to get sick. McConnell would let them all entirely off the hook, but even worse, he has been using it to hold essential relief for millions and millions of Americans hostage for months.
It’s been 198 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, and 62 days since the House passed their compromise $2.2 trillion bill. With the election over, McConnell is forcing the lame duck Senate to confirm more judges. He will also allow a government funding bill to avoid a shutdown—the two outstanding Senate races in Georgia give him incentive to at least prevent that from happening.
Coronavirus stimulus, however, remains stalled. Pelosi is insisting on the state and local government aid that those entities are clamoring for and McConnell is insisting that corporations like Publix and Tyson literally get away with murder. But “both sides” are to blame, don’t you know. Meanwhile, we’re barreling toward the end-of-the-year cliff when CARES Act programs, including expanded unemployment insurance and eviction moratoriums, expire. The hope of effective vaccines is welcome, but there’re weeks and weeks of suffering ahead before it gets to the majority of the population. The need is now.