AFL-CIO head asks members to call lawmakers, advocate for federal standards amid coronavirus outbreak


The head of the United States’s largest labor confederation on Friday urged members to call lawmakers to ask for help to protect front-line workers amid the spread of coronavirus in the U.S.

In an email to union members, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka asked members to call their representatives to advocate for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to act amid a potential global pandemic.

“An emergency temporary standard is needed to protect our workers from the current COVID-19 outbreak and future infectious agents. Will you call your representative now?” Trumka wrote.

OSHA is a government agency put in place to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for U.S. laborers.

The call to members comes as more than 230 cases of coronavirus have been reported across 21 states, killing at least 14 people as of Friday. Most of the fatalities in the U.S. have occurred in Washington state.

Earlier this week, a quarantined nurse in California sounded the alarm about the status of front-line health care workers dealing with the virus.

“As a nurse, I’m very concerned that not enough is being done to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” she wrote in a statement shared by their union, the California Nurses Association.

“I know because I am currently sick and in quarantine after caring for a patient who tested positive. I’m awaiting ‘permission’ from the federal government to allow for my testing, even after my physician and county health professional ordered it,” the nurse added.

In his letter to members, Trumka brought up similar concerns, stating that front-line workers who may come in contact with the virus should feel confident that they will have the resources they need to stay safe in their work environment despite the threats of coronavirus. 

“Health care workers, firefighters, police, airline workers, emergency service workers and other first responders answer the call when an outbreak occurs. They deserve to have the confidence that appropriate resources, equipment, training and protocols are readily available in their workplaces to protect themselves and to avoid infecting other people, including patients, co-workers, the public and their own families when they go home,” the AFL-CIO chief said.

According to the labor official, there are currently no existing OSHA standards or frameworks to mandate that employers provide adequate protections for workers from the outbreak. In the absence of a regulatory standard, he wrote, exposed workers are at a substantial risk. 

“Unions have been protecting our members on the front lines, and we have highly trained and equipped workers. The COVID-19 outbreak is another tragic reminder that the United States is not prepared to adequately protect our health care workers and first responders from infectious disease,” he wrote.

Trumka’s call to action comes as President Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to combat the coronavirus outbreak. 

The bill provides $7.76 billion to federal, state and local agencies to combat the coronavirus and authorizes an additional $500 million in waivers for Medicare telehealth restrictions.

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