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Health care worker unions sue Scalia, OSHA for shelving infectious diseases standard

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San Francisco — The Washington State Nurses Association is among four labor unions suing Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and OSHA in an effort to compel the agency to move forward with rulemaking on an infectious diseases standard that would require employers in the health care industry to protect workers from exposure to harmful infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola and influenza.

Filed by WSNA; the American Federation of Teachers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals on Oct. 29 in the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals, the lawsuit seeks a court order directing OSHA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within 90 days.

The petitioners, who represent more than 500,000 nurses and health care workers, claim the Trump administration put the health and safety of thousands of health care professionals in jeopardy when it halted work on an infectious diseases standard in 2017. A standard on infectious diseases remains on the list of long-term actions in the Department of Labor’s latest regulatory agenda.

“The administration’s unlawful decision to shelve proposed protections for health care professionals has recklessly exposed them to deadly infectious diseases like COVID-19,” Sean Lev, legal director for Democracy Forward, which is representing the unions in the lawsuit, said in a press release. “The decision betrays a dangerous disregard for the law and the health and safety of America’s frontline workers.”

The unions note that OSHA has spent almost a decade considering an infectious diseases standard after AFT, AFSCME and other affiliated labor unions petitioned the agency to develop one in May 2009.

 

On its Infectious Disease Rulemaking webpage, OSHA has published a summary report of stakeholder meetings from July 29, 2011. In addition, the unions note OSHA has already created a proposed regulatory framework and publicly acknowledged “employees in health care and other high-risk environments face long-standing infectious disease hazards.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten: “In times of national crisis, the government’s job is to protect people. Doctors, nurses, respiratory techs and other health care professionals have been treating COVID-19 patients for the better part of a year without basic workplace protections.”

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