OTLA Sidebar May/June 2020

11 • SIDEBAR • May–June 2020 A cross the country, the insurance industry, the medical and long term care industries and other corpo- rate interests have sought to limit the rights of consumers and workers in a variety of ways. So far, OTLA and our allies have fought off these efforts in Oregon. The medical industry and the long-term care industry have been campaigning to get blanket immunity for injuries they cause during the pandemic. They are fighting for far- reaching government action akin to New York and New Jersey Executive Orders. Governor Brown has rejected their proposals and the legislature is taking them up in piece meal form. Further, employers are also seek- ing to limit the rights of workers in the context of the pandemic. Worker safety has been compromised repeat- edly. The Oregon shelter-in-place rules allow most businesses to stay open if they adhere to social distancing and other safety requirements. However, Oregon OSHA reported 4,500 com- plaints about safety violations in the first month of the pandemic and just proposed a temporary rule lowering the penalties for violations. The pandemic is also exposing the scam of business interruption insur- ance. Businesses have filed claims only to have claims denied and needlessly delayed. In turn, business comes to the legislature seeking relief since they cannot get paid by their insurance companies. In testimony before the Governor Holding Firm Against COVID-19 Immunity; Corporate Oregon Shifts Fight to Legislature House Judiciary Committee on May 28, business sought immunity for air- lines who cancelled flights and refused to provide refunds, trade schools that collected tuition and then cancelled classes and other such consumer re- fund issues. We are also looking at the longer haul issue of how laws will be enforced when the state budget decimates the enforcement power of state agencies. BOLI, OR-OSHA, DOJ, nursing home inspection programs and the like can all expect their budgets to be slashed as the legislature seeks to preserve funding for schools and health care. Coalition Activity Crucial to Protection of Civil Justice We are working closely with AARP to protect the rights of nursing home res- idents. We are supporting the efforts of organized labor on worker rights and worker safety issues. Allies at the Oregon Nurses Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, Oregon State Council of Fire Fighters, and the Oregon AFL-CIO have all sought our help on making sure workers’ rights are protected. We are helping Oregon Consumer Justice launch its advocacy efforts around insurance scams. We have had a number of conversations with PCUN (Oregon’s farm workers union) and the NWWorkers Justice Project because of the working condi- tions at food processing plants and in the fields. We have to carry the load on the legal nuances, but our clients and our allies have to be the face of the cam- paign. Your willingness to bring your clients forward is huge. To give you a sense of what your clients are facing: Officer Jay Pinkerton of the Salem PD has a family member with auto immune deficiencies. He is very care- ful regarding his interaction with the public but since the pandemic, he has been at risk on the job. He contracted Covid-19 after an on-the-job encounter with someone infected with the virus. Officer Pinkerton contracted the virus but cannot absolutely prove he got it on the job. He is on the hook for co- pays and deductibles on medical bills, he is burning through his leave time because he is not eligible for lost wages because of the denial of his workers’ comp claim. Judith Jones, 75, died amid a coro- navirus outbreak at a nursing home in SE Portland. Her family was told she was receiving high quality care, but the safety precautions being taken were actually dangerously subpar. By the time the family could get her to the hospital, it was too late. Enesha Yurchak is a 35-year- old EMT employed in-house at the Amazon warehouse in Salem. She was fired after taking time off work to recover from Covid-19-like symp- toms, and for blowing the whistle on egregious safety violations. Yurchak is mother to a three-year-old and was looking forward to her impending wedding. She now has to fear for her health and that of her son, as well as find a replacement job during this eco- nomic crisis. Naomi Pomeroy is a restaurant owner who has owned her restaurant Beast for thirteen years. She has faith- fully paid premiums on her business interruption insurance policy. Her business was interrupted by the pan- demic, and her insurer is defrauding her. She is part of a class action suit against the insurance company. Gordon Sondland is a hotel/motel operator with a facility adjacent to the OTLA office in downtown Portland. Sondland was recently terminated from his second job as an ambassador in Europe, so he is more reliant than ever on the income from his chain of hotels. He filed a $7M suit against his insurance company which is failing to pay a claim on his business interrup- tion policy. Some of these issues may be ad- dressed in a summertime special ses- sion of the Oregon Legislature. Others are much more likely to be pushed to the 2021 session. Because of your generous sup- port of our Guardians program we have the capacity to lobby on these bills and to help elect legis- lators who share our commitment to justice.