Labor Unions Sue For Lack of Infectious Disease Standard

Labor Unions Sue For Lack of Infectious Disease Standard

A group of labor unions in the U.S. have launched plans to sue the OSHA for the lack of infectious disease standard, stating that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration failed to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a report from Business Insurance, a collection of labor unions comprised of teachers, health care and government workers has moved to sue the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failing to protect them with an infectious disease standard. 

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The lawsuit was filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Washington State Nurses Association and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals. 

The Washington Post writes that the lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration acted to sideline regulatory processes that would have protected teachers, government workers and health care professionals. 

So far, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 200,000 healthcare workers have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, while 786 have died at the time of writing. 

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The report from Business Insurance states that the case “documents years of delays in creating a standard that would provide employers with guidance on handling infectious disease outbreaks.” 

“OSHA has a duty to issue a safety and health standard to protect healthcare workers from the significant risk of harm from infectious diseases,” the court documents read. “The record of this risk to public health, even in ordinary times, is clear… OSHA’s 10-year delay in acting on the Infectious Disease Standard is unreasonable.” 

The collection of labor unions say their plan to sue the OSHA for a lack of infectious disease standard comes ten years after they first pressed the OSHA to develop and introduce a standard directed at managing the best practices of an infectious disease outbreak for workplaces. 

In submissions to the court, the plaintiffs said that they “require OSHA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking for the standard within 90 days of the Court’s mandamus order and to proceed on a priority, expedited basis to promptly issue a standard.” 

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious diseases caused 1.7 million health care-associated infections every year in the United States,” they continued to explain. “These infections are dangerous, and some can be fatal (eg, tuberculosis, bacterial meningitis, or Ebola.) OSHA acknowledged this risk and began the rulemaking process to issue a responsive standard,” they allege. 

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“OSHA was on the verge of issuing the necessary standard and projected its completion in 2017. Instead, after a change in administration, OSHA shelved the rulemaking altogether and has refused to carry out its statutory obligations- even in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century, which conservative estimates show has infected over 190,000 health care workers in the United States and claimed more than 770 of their lives.” 

“OSHA’s decade-long delay is unreasonable and unlawful,” the suit concluded. 

Megan P Sweeny, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor has said that “the Department is committed to protecting America’s workers during the pandemic, and OSHA has been working around the clock to that end.” 

The Department has received 9,818 covid-related complaints and has issued 112 citations through the pandemic so far, according to the Washington Post. 

The Department of Labor spokesperson directed attention to a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Washington, D.C., that states the court “concluded that OSHA acted reasonably when it determined that a new emergency temporary standard was not needed at this time.” 

The spokesperson continued to explain that “since that court ruling, OSHA has continued to rely on its pre-existing authorities in order to keep America’s workplaces safe. To date, OSHA has issued 144 citations relating to coronavirus. Together, those citations have resulted in over $2,025,431 in penalties.” 

“The Department will respond to this most recent lawsuit through the appropriate legal processes,” they concluded. 

President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten has said that “OSHA’s abdication of its responsibility to keep workers safe is an important today as it was in March and April… so we are trying to get them to do their job, which under the Trump administration they have refused to do.”

“It is terrifying to see how the Trump administration sees regular workers as disposable and expendable,” Weingarten said. 

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