Donald Trump, cheering on his “warriors” who demand that states lift their lockdown and distancing orders (where they have them), would have you believe this is about bringing the economy back to life so ordinary people can get their jobs and normal lives back. Elitist liberals who work from home and have country estates to retreat to don’t care, but “real” people do.
The reality is different. The shuttering of stores, restaurants, hotels and workplaces didn’t begin with government orders and won’t end with them. If the rate of new infection and death is too high, a lot of people won’t go along. Not everyone, but enough to make a huge economic difference. Ask any small business owner what it would mean for demand to drop by 25-50%. Lifting government orders won’t magically restore the economic conditions of mid-winter.
So what’s it about? Even as it makes a big PR show of supporting state by state “liberation” in America, the Trump administration is advising state governments on how to remove workers from unemployment insurance once orders are lifted. Without government directives, employers can demand workers show up, and if they refuse they no longer qualify. And why might workers refuse? Perhaps because their workplaces are still unsafe and they have vulnerable family members they want to keep from getting infected? Not good enough—once the state has been “liberated”.
How should we respond to this travesty? First, of course, by telling the truth that an anti-worker, anti-human campaign is being conducted under the guise of defending workers. If the Democrats weren’t themselves such a tool of business interests we might hear that narrative from them, but the rest of us are free to speak out and should start doing it, loudly, wherever we can.
Second, one of the laws of the land is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which gives workers the right to refuse imminently hazardous work. This hasn’t been used very often, nor is there much case law around it, but the current pandemic is a good reason to pull it out of storage. If there are public interest law firms looking for something useful to do during distancing, they could advertise their willingness to defend workers who need to stay home until work is safe—while still getting their paycheck. If employers thought the choice was between public support for workers sitting out the pandemic or their support for them we might hear less about “liberation”.