U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined renewed demands for passing legislation to protect workers from COVID-19 in response to disturbing and widespread reports of unsafe workplaces that have caused preventable illnesses and deaths in Wisconsin and across the nation.
Despite the growing numbers of sick and deceased essential workers, President Trump’s Department of Labor has failed to put in place enforceable health and safety standards to protect American workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Baldwin introduced The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act in June, which requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue enforceable standards for all workplaces to keep workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Baldwin’s legislation was included in the HEROES Act, which passed the House of Representatives more than two months ago, but the Republican majority in the Senate has not taken action.
“I have repeatedly called on the Trump Administration to put in place enforceable health and safety standards to protect workers during this pandemic, but they have failed to act and it has cost too many workers their lives. We cannot combat this pandemic if we do not take immediate action to protect all those working on the frontlines every day to move our country forward, including health care, food-service, meatpacking plant and grocery store workers,” said Senator Baldwin. “This legislation is the single best way to require all workplaces to protect the health and safety of their workers and prevent additional outbreaks and further spread of the coronavirus.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9,000 U.S. health care workers have been infected with COVID-19. Outbreaks have been reported at a wide range of workplaces across the country, including one meat processing plant where more than 500 workers were infected with the virus.
“I introduced The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act, because it is the single best way to require all workplaces to protect the health and safety of their workers, protect workers who report unsafe working conditions, and prevent additional outbreaks and further spread of COVID-19,” said Senator Baldwin. “My legislation was included in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives last month. If President Trump cares about Wisconsin workers he won’t let my legislation end up in Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard.”
Although the CDC issued guidance to protect workers, the guidance is not binding and OSHA currently has no enforceable standard to protect workers from airborne infectious diseases, leaving the nation’s workers at an elevated risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a time when they are needed most.
“This bill, when passed, will compel the U.S. Department of Labor to consult with the CDC and others, and put in place an enforceable emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 safety measures in the workplace,” said Darryl Morin, National President of Forward Latino in a statement. “It will benefit not only our meatpacking plant workers but healthcare professionals, our caregivers in elderly care facilities, in addition to those who are receiving care and more. Frankly, it is something that would have already been in place under other administrations.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the Department of Labor the authority to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard if employees are exposed to grave danger from new hazards. However, despite repeated calls from Committee Democrats to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard, the Department has made no effort to establish enforceable safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA have only recommended that businesses follow CDC guidelines and our not enforcing their implementation. According to the CDC’s own report on meat and poultry plants 87% of those who have contracted the virus are individuals who belong to a racial or ethnic minority,” added Morin. “A full 56% are Latino. To date tens of thousands of meatpacking workers have contracted the virus and well over 100 who have already died from complications related to the disease. While some talk about the need to keep the plants open and working at the same levels to secure the U.S. food supply chain, I can add that per U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Perdue, meat exports have surged during the pandemic.”
The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act directs OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard within 7 days that sets requirements for how workplaces must safeguard workers against the spread of the coronavirus. The legislation expands on a previous proposal, the COVID-19 Workers First Protection Act (S. 3584), by requiring OSHA to issue a standard covering all U.S. workers, including workers in health care facilities, warehouses, grocery stories, and food processing plants.