AFL-CIO sues OSHA to demand standard for worker protections

AFL-CIO sues OSHA to demand standard for worker protections
© Greg Nash

The AFL-CIO on Monday filed a petition to compel the Labor Department to issue an emergency temporary standard that would offer stronger protection for U.S. workers against the coronavirus as states begin to reopen.

The labor group is asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to immediately implement the measures.

It notes that thousands of essential workers have been exposed to the coronavirus while on the job and those numbers are likely to increase as the economy reopens and nonessential workers return to work. 

“It’s truly a sad day in America when working people must sue the organization tasked with protecting our health and safety,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “But we’ve been left no choice. Millions are infected and nearly 90,000 have died, so it’s beyond urgent that action is taken to protect workers who risk our lives daily to respond to this public health emergency. If the Trump administration refuses to act, we must compel them to.”

The petition also notes that OSHA’s personal protective equipment standard, which includes direction on masks and eye covers, leaves decisions to mandate usage and to supply them to workers up to employers.

"The Department is committed to protecting American workers during the pandemic, and OSHA has been working around the clock to that end. The Department is confident it will prevail in this counterproductive lawsuit," a Labor Department spokesperson told The Hill.

Trumka wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaCongress set for fight over expiring unemployment relief Appeals court rejects AFL-CIO lawsuit over lack of COVID-19 labor protections On The Money: Key Democrat accuses Labor chief of 'misleading' testimony | Warren urges bank regulator to scrap anti-redlining rule rewrite | Senators press IG to act to prevent nursing homes from seizing coronavirus checks MORE last month demanding action. 

“Working people in the country are courageously and selflessly serving on the frontlines to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for patients and providing essential services to the nation. They are doing their jobs under the most trying conditions. The U.S. Department of Labor and the entire federal government must act now and do their job and meet their responsibility and obligation to protect the safety and health of working men and women during this national emergency,” Trumka wrote.

The AFL-CIO said Scalia responded on April 30 and stated that a “mandatory standard specifically addressing the grave risk posed by the virus was not necessary,” according to a press release on Monday.

Unions have been calling for OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard since the beginning of the pandemic. The AFL-CIO and 23 other national unions petitioned OSHA on March 6, and National Nurses United petitioned the administration on March 4.

Updated at 1:25 p.m.