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Rep. Pohutsky, advocates speak out against Republican Covid plan

The proposal would tie unemployment relief to protections for reckless companies

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D 19-Livonia) and other advocates challenged a Republican plan to trade worker safety for pandemic unemployment relief in an online press conference Monday.  On Thursday, Senate Republicans proposed a bill that tied continuation of unemployment protections to the passage of a corporate lawsuit immunity bill. On Tuesday, the state house of representatives is expected to vote on it.

“With this supreme court ruling, the legislature has got to step up and do the work of keeping people safe throughout this pandemic,” said Rep. Pohutsky. “We have got to make sure that we preserve the benefits that (Gov. Whitmer’s) executive orders around unemployment offered but we need to remove this tie bar that shackles it to these immunity bills.”

One person who would have benefited from such protections is Michael Timmons who worked when the pandemic hit doing laundry for the residents at a nursing home. “Before the pandemic, we had a mask and gloves and all this stuff. When the pandemic came along, they locked up all the PPE,” said Timmons “We weren’t allowed to have masks after that. I was told they were being held for people of higher priority.” He continued working there until a coworker contracted Covid-19 and he feared bringing the virus into his home where his roommate already suffers from COPD. Timmons, himself, has suffered two heart attacks in the past. 

“Michael’s story is heartbreaking but it is far from unique,” said Pohutsky. Her mother’s a nurse who works overnight at a nursing home. “The PPE for that shift was locked away in a room that nobody working that shift had a key for.” She says the HB6030 goes far beyond preventing frivolous lawsuits. “We are talking about giving bad actors, who have not done their due diligence to keep their employees safe, immunity from the repercussions and consequences of those actions.”

Rachel Kohl, professor of Workers’ Rights at the University of Michigan, said that in previous years the Michigan legislature has added a lot of red tape provisions that reduce who can obtain unemployment in this state. “When the pandemic began this March, Gov. Whitmer issued a series of executive orders that sliced through some of this red tape so that Michigan workers could get benefits during the pandemic and so that the unemployment insurance agency could process a historically unprecedented number of claims more quickly.” She represented Timmons in his claim for unemployment after leaving his job.  “The judge ruled in his favor because of the executive orders. He received benefits because of the executive orders,” said Kohl. 

Michigan United has identified key legislators who could be the deciding votes to stop the immunity bill:

Ryan Berman District 39 

Andrea Schroeder District  43

Steven Johnson District 72 

Beth Griffin District  66 

Steve Marino District 24 

The organization is urging their constituents to tell them to reject it in favor of clean legislation that continues unemployment payments.

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