AFL-CIO calls on Labor Department to ramp up protections for workers amid pandemic

AFL-CIO calls on Labor Department to ramp up protections for workers amid pandemic
© Greg Nash

The president of the AFL-CIO, one of the largest union federations in the U.S., penned a letter to the Department of Labor (DOL) Tuesday requesting the agency take "immediate action" to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure.

The letter from Richard Trumka comes as several meat plants across the country are shutting down and workers sound the alarm about potentially dangerous conditions.

The message addresses the Labor Department's supposed failure to fulfill safety responsibilities for workers as well as alleged false claims by Labor Secretary Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaHispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants Making a difference in the age of COVID-19 GOP rolls out trillion coronavirus relief package MORE, who said he has all the tools for addressing the pandemic and would "use them if necessary," according to a statement from AFL-CIO.

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"Thousands of workers have died and are sick. If that's not necessary, I don't know what is," said Trumka. "The DOL and the federal government have failed to meet their obligation and duty to protect workers. The government's response has been delinquent, delayed, disorganized, chaotic, and deadly."

In the letter, Trumka also included the names of "the at least" 284 union members who have died due to COVID-19. 

Trumka called for course change within the Labor Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to boost health and safety standards for essential workers across the nation.

Some of the proposed measures include "expeditiously" enforcing existing OSHA regulations to protect workers from hazards such as COVID-19 and expand its enforcement of safety and health requirements for all work sectors.

Other measures address protecting OSHA and MSHA inspectors, while also suggesting a collaboration with the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the supply of virus tests and personal protective equipment.