COVID-19 has killed more workers in a shorter time than any other health emergency in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 50-year existence. But OSHA has refused to require employers to take any specific action to protect workers, saying that employers’ “general duty” to maintain a safe workplace under the law is enough.
On May 18, the national AFL-CIO asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to order the agency to issue an emergency temporary rule.
On June 11, the court gave the federation its answer: No.
A three-judge panel found that the agency’s refusal was reasonable, “in light of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the regulatory tools that the OSHA has at its disposal to ensure that employers are maintaining hazard-free work environments.”
Judges signing the two-page ruling were appointees of presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush Sr.
“We are very disappointed that three judges did not deem the lives of America’s workers worthy of holding an argument or issuing a full opinion,” reacted AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a press statement. The AFL-CIO has appealed to the full Circuit Court to review the panel’s judgment.
It’s not just organized labor that thinks OSHA is AWOL. On June 21 the New York Times editorial board blasted OSHA for inaction, pointing out that the agency has issued only one COVID-related citation so far, after having received over 5,000 COVID-related safety complaints from workers.
And in its second-round stimulus package, the Democratic-led U.S. House included a requirement that OSHA adopt an emergency standard for COVID safety measures. The Republican-led U.S. Senate has refused to take it up.