Workforce

Federal appeals court denies union push for emergency coronavirus safety rules

By JHVEPhoto Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1675500928 

A federal appeals court denied a labor union's petition to force the federal agency tasked with overseeing worker safety to issue an emergency temporary standard that would have addressed infectious disease in the workplace.

On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a two-page order denying the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization's petition for a writ of mandamus against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The AFL-CIO had challenged OSHA for not issuing an standard that specifically addressed workplace conditions during COVID-19.

Lawmakers have criticized OSHA for choosing to adhere to voluntary guidance during COVID-19 instead of issuing a pandemic-specific standard, which is binding.

Earlier this month Loren Sweatt, the principal deputy assistant secretary of Labor and head of OSHA told members of the House Oversight Committee that using guidance gave the administration a more "nimble approach" as drafting and formalizing formal regulations can often take years.

"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, the OSHA reasonably determined that an ETS is not necessary at this time," the three judges wrote in their order.

They argued that OSHA was entitled to "considerable deference" with regards to its decision not to issue an ETS.

"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," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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