April 29, 2020
Dear Member of Congress:
The undersigned 202 worker rights, public health, and consumer advocacy organizations urge Congress to pass the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020. This bill will require the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect all workers who continue to go to work during the pandemic from exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Without specific safety mandates, businesses are left with little direction, and the result is rapid spread of the disease in the workplace and into our communities. This is needed not just for those who are currently still working but is equally important as we make plans to re-open the economy, so that employers will implement adequate precautions to ensure that unsafe conditions do not lead to a second wave of infections.
Currently, there is only one OSHA standard enforcing the protection of workers from infectious diseases, and it applies only to bloodborne pathogens. There is no standard protecting workers from COVID-19. Though OSHA should have issued an ETS weeks ago, it has not done so and indicated no willingness to do so. Workers have no protections—they are on their own in this pandemic.
Therefore, Congress must take the important step of requiring OSHA to issue mandated protections that will help reduce the spread in the workplace. Many thousands of workers have already become ill from workplace exposure to COVID-19 and hundreds have died. The number of confirmed cases and fatalities in the workplace that are related to COVID-19 are growing exponentially every day.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that over 16,000 healthcare workers have been infected to date with coronavirus, and over 41 have died. Due to lack of access to testing in many parts of the country, we know this number represents only a fraction of the frontline healthcare workers who are sacrificing their personal health and well-being to provide medical care to patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also spread through many other workplaces including grocery stores1, meatpacking2 and poultry plants, warehouses, and among transportation3 workers to name a few— sickening thousands and killing dozens and dozens of workers just in the last two weeks. Furthermore, these jobs have high concentrations of women and Black and brown workers, exposing our most vulnerable communities4 to further economic inequities in addition to inadequate safety protections.
Worker reports from all over the country are exposing the fault lines in our prevention efforts. Workers are required to congregate in break rooms, in locker rooms, are working shoulder to shoulder or are interacting with the public often with little or no protections5 from COVID-19.
CDC and OSHA have issued no mandates that require that employers implement any protective measures. All OSHA or CDC have released are voluntary guidance for employers to follow to mitigate workplace exposure to COVID-19. These guidance documents and posters are advisory, not enforceable. Employers can choose to implement these measures or ignore them. As the number of workers infected with and dying from this disease continues to grow, and as we see spread in communities where workers live, it is clear that a voluntary approach to worker safety is not mitigating this public health disaster.
As the public is being advised to practice safety precautions like frequent hand washing, social
distancing, sanitizing hands, and wearing masks, the federal government must ensure that all workers have the same health and safety precautions in place and provided by their employers.
Worker health is public health. We urge you to pass the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act to protect our brave and valuable workers, which will mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect our communities and the public.
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