U.S. Sen. Duckworth Joins Labor, Environmental Leaders to Call for Senate Action to Establish an Enforceable Workplace Standard to Protect Workers

As Senate Republicans focus on legislation that would shield companies from legal accountability for endangering workers on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today joined leaders from the BlueGreen Alliance in calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to take up a COVID-19 relief bill that establishes an enforceable temporary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard to protect working people on the job during this pandemic.

July 29, 2020

Listen to the press call.

“It’s been over six months since the first case of COVID-19 here in the U.S., and yet the Trump Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration has yet to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers,“ said Senator Duckworth. “It’s past time for Republicans in Congress to hold this administration accountable. They should include in the next relief package what Democrats have been fighting for since the onset of this pandemic: language requiring OSHA to do its job and finally issue an Emergency Temporary Standard protecting workers from COVID-19.”

“Under Donald Trump, OSHA—and its counterpart for the mining industry Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)—have failed workers by putting out only toothless guidance for employers instead of an enforceable standard for employers to follow. Guidance isn’t good enough because even OSHA admits it can’t be enforced; we need enforceable rules,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “Instead of requiring OSHA to do its job, Mitch McConnell has proposed a bill that further shields companies from liability if they endanger their workers. It is another example of just how out of touch Senate Republicans are to the realities facing workers every day.”

Almost 150,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. Two of the largest sources of outbreaks are in food processing plants and long-term care facilities. Data from several countries early in the outbreak showed almost 50% of infections came from the workplace. That data is borne out in Colorado, where state tracking of the 8,278 confirmed COVID outbreak cases on July 22 found 49% were workers in the reporting facilities, most notably nursing homes, restaurants, food and beverage manufacturing, and construction.

During the call, the BlueGreen Alliance released a paper, Less Exposure and More Protection: What We Can Do Now to Protect More Black and Brown Workers’ Lives, which examines the impact of COVID-19 on workers’ health and safety, including the disparate impacts on the health and safety of workers of color. The paper found Black and Latinx workers are more likely to have jobs that require them to physically report to a workplace where there are lower wages and a higher risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. An analysis of 2018 census data shows 43% of Black and Latinx workers are employed in service or production jobs, while only about one in four white workers held such jobs.

“From the start of this pandemic, science has been pushed aside to the detriment of the health and safety of working people—especially working people of color,” said Kathleen Rest, Executive Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been derelict in its duty to protect the millions of teachers and support staff, nurses, manufacturing workers, food chain workers, janitors, utility workers, delivery drivers, and other essential workers that have continued to show up for work every day in the middle of this pandemic. OSHA’s failure to promulgate a standard to protect workers from COVID-19, combined with the push by Senate Republicans to shield employers from liability for the consequences of failing to protect their employees, is a double whammy for the millions of hard-working people who are putting their lives on the line. These workers are doing their jobs; it’s time for OSHA and Senate Republicans to do theirs as well.”

On May 20, Columbia University researchers published their analysis showing that 36,000 U.S. deaths could have been prevented by imposing social distancing one week earlier. Policy delays cost 36,000 Americans their lives. For each of the states included in the Columbia University analysis, the death rate for Black people is higher. In Illinois for example, Black people make up 14% of the population but 28% of the COVID deaths. The paper found that instead of addressing these inequities, all too often the official response to the shocking realities of this pandemic is to blame the victim themselves, frequently through racist tropes.

“We’ve seen the Senate under Mitch McConnell fail workers in America again and again. This is especially true for workers and communities of color. It’s time for his members to stand up to him and stand up for workers and require OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect workers on the job from COVID-19,” added Walsh.

The group also called for inclusion of much-needed relief to working families, measures to jumpstart the manufacturing of personal protective equipment here in the United States, and the necessary funds to local and state governments and schools.

Listen to the audio from the call.