The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the AFL-CIO’s petition for a temporary infectious disease standard to protect employees from COVID-19.
“OSHA’s decision not to issue an [Emergency Temporary Standard] is entitled to considerable deference,” the court said in a brief ruling issued Thursday.
“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 court said.
OSHA can issue an ETS “if it determines that ‘employees are exposed to grave danger’ from a new hazard in the workplace, and an ETS is ‘necessary’ to protect them from that danger,” the court said.
“We are pleased with the decision from the D.C. Circuit, which agreed that OSHA reasonably determined that its existing statutory and regulatory tools are protecting America’s workers and that an emergency temporary standard is not necessary at this time,” Solicitor of Labor Kate O’Scannlain and OSHA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt said in a statement.
In seeking an ETS, the federation of 55 national and international labor unions representing 12.5 million workers argued that the standard was necessary to protect not just health care workers, but those in the food industry such as grocery and other retail clerks and employees at meat and poultry plants.
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In a statement on the ruling, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka criticized the court's "post-it length response" repeating "the false claim" that OSHA "already has done what is needed to protect workers."
"More than 2 million of America’s working people are infected, and more than 110,000 have died," Trumka added. "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."
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