Shielding your boss from justice won’t bring conventions back

July 30, 2020 7:00 am

An exhibitor sets up for CES 2020 in Las Vegas. (CES courtesy photo)

Republicans have finally come up with a plan to fight the Covid and the accompanying economic misery and despair: Bomb it to smithereens.

As federal unemployment benefits expire, the economy appears to be weaker instead of stronger, and working mothers agonize over how they’re going to pay the bills and watch their school-less children, Senate Republicans have crafted a relief bill that spends oodles and oodles on … blowing stuff up.

“The Republican measure includes billions for F-35 fighters, Apache helicopters and infantry carriers sought by Washington’s powerful defense lobby,” The Associated Press reported. “Overall, the proposal stuffs $8 billion into Pentagon weapons systems built by defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics — corporate titans that sit atop the Washington influence industry.”

Meanwhile, in other disturbing (albeit more logical) news, the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the largest trade shows in this or any other city, is going virtual, and won’t be happening in Las Vegas.

Scores and scores of conventions were canceled in Las Vegas last spring. A handful of them are rescheduled for the fall — for now, anyway; about 30 conventions that had been scheduled through September have been canceled, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. With Covid surging not just in Southern Nevada but in multiple states in every part of the country, the trend line for conventions and trade shows is likely tilting toward more cancellations for the foreseeable future.

January, by the way. That’s when CES was scheduled. The cancellation of such a large event a half year away punctuates the national trepidation that will leave the convention industry in uncertainty if not dormancy (or worse) well into the foreseeable future.

If only new F-35’s came equipped to fire trade shows at us.

The thousands of Southern Nevadans who work, or worked, conventions and trade shows were among the first to lose jobs during the Covid crisis. And it looks like they’ll be among the last to return to work, assuming they ever return to work in the industry.

Nevada was one of the slowest states to get many of those people qualified for unemployment benefits in the first place, and of course many of them are still wrangling with a state unemployment office that is dedicated to erring on the side of not paying people.

New jet fighters are not going to feed those working Nevadans, along with the tens of thousands more in tourism & hospitality and the sector’s support industries, over the next several months of continued joblessness. Apache helicopters aren’t going to pay rent for your unemployed kid, your neighbor, or you. Defense contractors aren’t going to make your car and insurance payments.

And neither will the centerpiece of the GOP’s Covid relief agenda.

Workers need ‘incentives’ but their bosses … don’t?

Republicans in Congress, along with GOP media apologists and their audience, complain that the $600 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits, which expire Friday, was just too darned much money – so much, it’s keeping people from going back to work.

The people who will not be working CES in January or all the other canceled conventions and shows are not refusing to go to work because they’re living so high on the hog on that sweet sweet government money. 

They’re not going back to work because there isn’t work to go back to.

It is true, however, that thanks to the federal $600 a week, income for many Southern Nevada working families has been higher than it was in The Before Time.

One of the latest in the tossed together grab-bag of Republican proposals would extend the benefit, but curtail it to $200 a week. 

Evidently it has been quite some time since Republican U.S. senators or anyone they know have struggled to make ends meet.

The current occupant of the White House explained a while back why he and his sycophants in Congress don’t want to extend the $600 benefit

“We had something where … it gave you a disincentive to work last time,” Trump said. “We want to create a very great incentive to work.”

It is true that many people were making more from unemployment in the last few months than they made from their jobs – especially in Nevada, where the recovery from the last economic crisis was characterized by precarious jobs with irregular schedules, scant benefits, unfair conditions, and of course, low wages.

Now even those jobs can be few and far between. Or worse, people get called back to them, and if they refuse because they would prefer not to catch the Covid while selling pants to customers who are too cool to pull the mask up over their nose, they can lose their unemployment benefits.

Trump administration television personality, er, director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow was calling for an end to the federal unemployment benefits weeks ago. Kudlow, a dilettante who prior to being plucked by Trump from a TV studio to guide economic policy was famous mostly for insisting again and again that the economy looked great right until it crashed in 2008, made his remarks while rendering an equally sound diagnosis of the contemporary crisis.

“This is a turning point in the economy,” Kudlow said in mid-June. “Besides the great jobs numbers, you’ve got a lot of positive green-shoot indicators. We don’t want to interrupt that” by extending unemployment benefits.

Six weeks later, if there’s one thing we can still say with certainty in these uncertain times, it is that Kudlow is always, consistently, and reliably wrong.

Trump, Kudlow and Friends couch their hostility to federal assistance in patriot capitalism, wherein it is best for all the, you know, little people, if they keep their noses to the grindstone and quietly toil, toil, toil, no matter what the wages or working conditions, just like the founders intended. Builds character!

Which brings us to what Republicans want most in a relief bill, their single clear focus, a priority even more important to them than shiny new jets: Liability protections to shield companies from getting sued for doing stuff they ought to be sued for.

Remember, if we give people unemployment benefits, then they won’t have an incentive to work. 

So does that mean if we give their bosses protection from being sued for putting workers at risk of dying from Covid, bosses won’t have an incentive to protect their employees? 

This is something your Nevada legislators may want to consider over the next few days.

Nevada industries are pushing the governor and lawmakers to shield companies from lawsuits filed by workers and families of workers who had no choice but to go to work and were endangered, or sickened, or died – in the process.

There are indications Nevada’s only 21st century Democratic governor and the nation’s first majority female Legislature (both products of the 2018 Blue Wave!!!), may well come down on the same side of this issue as Mitch McConnell.

In the meantime, everything is horrible in Southern Nevada. Seriously, when even perpetual Nevada economic cheerleader Jeremy Aguero puts down the pom poms, you know we’re screwed. And not even the great and powerful all-American magic potion cure-all — market forces mixed with competition unhindered by burdensome government interference — can make people return to jobs that aren’t there.

A law to shield companies from lawsuits has about as much chance of fixing that as a new F-35.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.