Unions Workplace exposures

Coronavirus outbreak: Union leaders offer resources for frontline workers, push for federal guidance

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Washington — Representatives from two labor unions are bringing attention to resources intended to protect workers in “frontline industries” from exposure to the new coronavirus and are calling on the federal government to provide coordinated guidance.

During a Feb. 4 telephone press conference, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, discussed her organization’s webpage that addresses the coronavirus outbreak. It includes an overview of the deadly respiratory illness that reportedly has been linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China. As of Feb. 14, 15 people in the United States had tested positive for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The webpage also features a list of symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath; information for health care professionals and their employers; recommended protections for health care workers; and information for educators and travelers.

“We need to take this public health emergency seriously,” Weingarten said. “We need to make sure people have the information they need to provide a safe and, hopefully, healthy environment for themselves and their families.”

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, said communicable disease incidence response checklists and answers to frequently asked questions are available at afacwa.org/coronavirus. Nelson urged the departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor – along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and CDC – to work together “to coordinate delivery of recommendations, guidance and materials to public and private [organizations], issuing uniform guidance across relevant industries that ensure consistent standards of caution.

“In aviation, each carrier is currently determining individual policies regarding travel,” Nelson continued. “It is really much more helpful if [DOT] is issuing consistent guidelines for these carriers. They need to distribute the necessary materials and supplies to all of the stakeholders. For example, ensuring workers are equipped with enough masks and gloves, sanitation supplies, and the universal precautions we have listed on our checklist.”

Also speaking during the news conference were Michelle Thoman, a registered nurse at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and member of the Ohio Nurses Association’s board of directors, and Jacqueline Moline, vice president of occupational medicine, epidemiology and prevention at Northwell Health in New York.


Moline pointed out that people who have contracted the new coronavirus may be contagious while being asymptomatic.

“There can be a false sense of security that they aren’t contagious when they do not have a fever,” she said, adding that the virus does not appear to spread through “casual contact” and it “takes being in contact for several minutes and within 6 feet of somebody.”

Taking precautions such as proper handwashing can help, Moline said.

“If you touch somebody’s hands, you wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to water,” she said.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)