Organized Labor Steps Up Pressure on Government and Employers on COVID-19

May 01, 2020

Calling the U.S. Department of Labor “missing in action” regarding protecting workers during the pandemic, a letter from the AFL-CIO urges the Department to require several measures to increase workplace safety and health.

The letter calls on DOL to:

  • Issue emergency temporary standards to protect health care workers, first responders, essential workers, and other workers returning to work from COVID-19 exposure and infection;

  • Fully and aggressively enforce existing OSHA standards, including the employer's general duty obligation to protect workers from recognized hazards such as COVID-19;

  • Require employer recording and reporting of all worker COVID-19 infections and deaths; and

  • Protect workers from employer retaliation for taking action to protect themselves and co-workers from COVID-19.

"Workers should have the right to refuse to go to work if they believe it's unsafe,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a call with the media last week.

Individual unions weighing in:  With intensive focus on the food manufacturing industry, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) issued demands that employers ensure a number of specific protections, including distancing of workers 6.5 feet apart, safe travel arrangements, and child care allowances, among others.

Outlook:  While Trumka has stopped short of telling the AFL-CIO's 12 million members to refuse to return to work unless new safety protections are implemented, it is quite possible they will take every advantage of their ability to file OSHA complaints.