Instead of Ensuring Workplace Safety, Senator Ernst Has Fallen in Line With McConnell’s “Redline” to Protect Corporate Backers Over Iowa Workers

After praising orders to push plant workers back onto the line, Iowa Starting Line is reporting that Senator Ernst has now “taken up the mantle” from Mitch McConnell to ensure meatpacking executives have liability protection if workers contract COVID-19 – even if the companies failed to ensure safe working conditions.

Coronavirus cases surged at Iowa meatpacking plants over the last week with three new plant outbreaks, including one in Storm Lake with over 500 new cases – 22% of the workforce there. But while Senator Ernst claims she’s prioritizing the safety of workers, her “actions largely favor corporate interests over individuals.” Because McConnell has tied corporate liability protection to any new direct aid for state and local governments, Senator Ernst’s support could also force layoffs of first responders and essential workers after COVID-19’s “economic death spiral” has decimated local revenue bases.

“First Senator Ernst voted to strip worker protections from critical relief, and now she’s taken up Mitch McConnell’s ‘mantle’ in giving corporate executives carte blanche if they force workers into perilous conditions. Senator Ernst has once again made her priorities clear: her political interests in Washington come before the interests of Iowans – no matter the consequences,” said Jeremy Busch, Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson.

Iowa Starting Line: Ernst’s Next COVID Focus: Protecting Business From Safety Lawsuits

By: Elizabeth Meyer

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Key Points:

  • Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst has talked with members of the media this week to promote her book debut, but on CBS “This Morning,” the reporter also used the interview to ask Ernst what type of assistance should be included in Congress’ next coronavirus relief package.
  • Though she commended “heroes” working in meatpacking plants, grocery stores and health care facilities, Ernst first used the question to talk about liability protections for business.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called liability protections for business owners his “redline going forward” on another coronavirus relief bill.
  • Since then, his Republican colleagues have taken up the mantle of promoting liability protections as a must-have component of future legislation.
  • Ernst also says she supports a “federal tax suspension” and federal payroll tax holiday for essential workers, though in the past she voted against the extra $600 weekly unemployment insurance afforded to workers and did not support a paid sick leave provision in the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”
  • Though Ernst and other elected Republicans have applauded frontline workers and advocated for the personal protective equipment needed to safely do their jobs, their actions largely favor corporate interests over individuals.
  • Iowa Republicans have praised President Donald Trump for invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meatpacking plants open during the pandemic despite climbing cases of COVID-19 inside the facilities. Buena Vista County, for example, has surpassed Louisa County as having the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita due to its new Tyson plant outbreaks in Storm Lake. The county’s infection rate of 3,527 individuals per 100,000 cases — as of Thursday morning — is the highest in the state.
  • Today, state officials confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake where 555 employees have tested positive.