AFL-CIO chief: Obama must move on Ebola protections

The head of the nation’s largest labor federation is calling on President Obama to move unilaterally to impose a slate of worker protection standards to stop Ebola from spreading in the United States.

In a letter sent to Obama and congressional leaders, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said swift executive action is needed to address deficiencies in protocols in place to combat infectious diseases.

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“Immediate action is needed,” Trumka said to the president. “Comprehensive standards to protect workers from all infectious disease agents must be issued.”

In particular, the AFL-CIO urged Obama to direct his administration to issue “uniform enforceable national standards” for health workers, following the diagnosis of two healthcare employees who treated an Ebola patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

The standards should include specific protocols requiring the use of air purifying respirators, full body suits and staffing rules. Trumka said the administration should mandate hands-on training for all front line medical and hospital personnel.

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health should collaborate on developing the standards.

Trumka is calling for additional prohibitions against discipline or retaliation against workers who either raise safety concerns or themselves contract the deadly virus.

He contends that hundreds of thousands of workers across the nation are potentially at risk for exposure to Ebola, which has killed thousands of people in West Africa this year.

“Protecting these workers is integral to protecting the public from exposure and stopping the spread of Ebola,” Trumka wrote.

In separate letters to House and Senate leaders, Trumka is also calling on Congress to work jointly with the administration and to provide any necessary support, either through legislation or funding.