On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a two-page order rejecting an AFL-CIO lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, stating OSHA has the authority to decide whether to issue new rules during the pandemic.
The labor federation and 23 other national unions first petitioned OSHA for what is known as an emergency temporary standard (ETS) on March 6 to protect workers from the COVID-19 pandemic. When the request failed to garner any significant response, a lawsuit was filed in mid-May, claiming OSHA has ignored calls for rules to protect workers from the coronavirus.
“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,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a prepared statement. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s post-it length response to our petition acknowledges the ‘unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ but repeats the false claim by big business that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration already has done what is needed to protect workers.”
According to Trumka, OSHA has not taken any steps to protect employers. Their current personal protective equipment standard, which includes guidance on masks and eye covers, leaves the final decision up to employers.
On June 21, a New York Times editorial blasted OSHA for inaction, pointing out the agency has issued only one COVID-related citation so far, after having received more than 5,000 COVID-related safety complaints from workers.
For many workers, including construction workers who have been deemed essential, the court’s ruling means business as usual, with little change.
“An unprecedented pandemic calls for unprecedented action, and the court’s action today fell woefully short of fulfilling its duty to ensure that the Occupational Safety and Health Act is enforced,” Trumka said.