Unions push White House for more protective equipment for essential workers

Unions push White House for more protective equipment for essential workers
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Unions for workers outside of the health care field who have been deemed essential are pushing the Trump administration to do more to route protective equipment to workers.

In a Thursday letter to the president signed by more than 100 unions, advocacy organizations and environmental groups, leaders said the administration needs to immediately provide equipment not just to hospital workers but cleaning staff, restaurant workers, manufacturers and others who cannot work from home.

“The desperate need for PPE [personal protective equipment] goes far beyond healthcare workers,” the groups wrote. “Janitors are deep cleaning buildings, teachers’ aides are delivering meals to children at home, warehouse and manufacturing workers are making and distributing essential goods, home care providers are caring for the most vulnerable, public service workers are maintaining essential services, bus operators are taking essential workers to their jobs."

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“All at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus without enough PPE to lessen exposure," the letter continued.

The White House stressed that many of their requests would also need to be made to state and local officials.

"Both the President and Vice President have said, this is a locally executed, state managed, federally supported response to a global pandemic that this Administration is fully committed to. This is about saving lives and the Trump Administration has been working with governors and their teams since January on COVID-19 coordination. Every level of government needs to deliver data-driven solutions and that is what we are doing in partnership,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email to The Hill.

The letter was signed by the Service Employees International Union and unions for flight attendants, transit workers, manufacturing, and telecom workers, as well as the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. 

The groups want the administration to immediately distribute the respirators and other personal protective equipment held in the Strategic National Stockpile, but that has largely already been depleted.

According to the staff from the Department of Health and Human Services, 90 percent of the stockpile's inventory of N95 respirators, surgical and face masks, face shields, gowns and gloves have already been distributed to every state. 

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The remaining 10 percent is reserved for federal workers and will not be distributed to states.   

The groups argue some such equipment should be routed from the construction industry to front-line workers and that the government should tap into military stockpiles of ventilators. 

But they’re also encouraging the administration to “more aggressively and broadly deploy the Defense Production Act, to speed immediate production of new protective equipment and ensure it is routed to states for distribution.”

Trump last week announced that he would expand use of the act, which allows the government to force companies to manufacture needed supplies; however, many have said he is not using the law to the extent necessary given the lack of protective equipment and ventilators necessary to battle the coronavirus.

“We implore you to immediately exercise the full powers of the government available to you, at the scale and speed necessary, to protect these workers and confront the coronavirus crisis,” the groups wrote. “Only the federal government has the tools available to maximize protections for these workers, yet you are failing to provide the leadership that this moment demands.”

Updated at 2:11 p.m.