Workers Welcome OSHA Emergency Antivirus Standard; GOP doesn’t – People’s World
WASHINGTON – Workers facing fear and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus plague hailed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new emergency temporary standard ordering all companies that employ at least 100 people to require virus vaccinations for workers or weekly tests for the unvaccinated.
And if workers contract the virus, companies must give them sick leave and paid family leave to recover, OSHA said.
But while OSHA mandated companies to protect their workers, Republicans in Congress raged. They claimed it would cost companies too much money and profits. Their statement never mentioned the suffering of the workers. They have vowed to overturn the norm and ban a permanent one as well. “Job creators” – GOP jargon for business – “shouldn’t be forced to become the vaccine and testing police,” shouted their spokesperson, Rep. Virginia Foxx, RN.C.
The OSHA standard, unveiled Nov. 4 and released the next day, will take full effect Jan. 4, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said. OSHA has estimated that the standard will cover at least 84 million workers, although it expects millions more to follow as other companies voluntarily obey.
“Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” Walsh said, using the official name of the virus.
“We need to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace from the grave danger of Covid-19. Many companies understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated, and we think many will be happy to see this OSHA rule come into effect. “
Walsh may be underestimating the trauma of workers watching their colleagues fall ill and die from Covid-19, deaths OSHA hopes to reduce and prevent.
“Covid-19 has hit our nursing home hard,” Ann Barden, a member of SEIU 1199NE Healthcare and dietitian aide and cook at Trinity Hill Nursing Home in Hartford, Connecticut, at a zoom press conference the week before. on compulsory vaccinations.
Given inferior dresses
“We were given substandard gowns and told to share masks and coveralls. The company sprayed the masks with “cleaning chemicals” so they could be reused. These chemicals have also made workers sick – and the shared masks go against federal guidelines.
“Half of our workers have fallen ill and many have died,” Barden said during the session, convened by the pro-worker National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. OSHA investigated and fined the retirement home and three other members of its channel $ 60,000, she said.
In addition to mandatory vaccinations and weekly coronavirus tests for unvaccinated people, the emergency standard says companies must offer paid family and medical leave to workers who test positive until their recovery. It also requires face masks in the workplace.
Companies must “determine the immunization status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of the immunization status of employees vaccinated, keep records and maintain a list of the immunization status of each employee,” OSHA said. In return, workers must give companies a “quick warning” when they test positive.
The OSHA standard also covers all healthcare workers, public and private. This drew cheers from two main unions for these workers, the teachers (AFT), who represent school nurses, and National Nurses United. NNU wants OSHA to make the standard permanent.
“The temporary emergency healthcare standard Covid-19 meant mandatory requirements for employers, with penalties for those who violate these requirements, on protections against infections in healthcare facilities,” wrote the president of NNU, Deborah Burger, at the agency.
“It was enacted through the relentless advocacy of union nurses against widespread opposition from the hospital industry and other business interests. Letting it expire without adopting a permanent standard would mean more transmission of the virus, more hospitalizations and more deaths from Covid-19. “
Several questions remain unanswered. One was who will pay for the vaccinations. OSHA administrator Jim Frederick said it would mostly be insurers, but it depends on individual workers ‘policies or their unions’ health care coverage negotiated in contracts.
Another is what would happen in about half of the states where federal OSHA does all enforcement. In these states, there is no coverage for state and local government employees. An earlier executive decree on mandatory vaccination / weekly Biden testing covers all federal workers.
Barden and the other workers, called for a zoom press conference by the council a week before, want protection.
Happy Allen, a United for Respect member who worked at a PetSmart store in Tennessee, said security conditions worsened after Wall Street venture capital firm BC Partners bought the chain. This slide included the refusal to protect workers from the virus.
When he hit they got nothing
“When Covid hit they didn’t give us personal protective equipment (PPE) and we couldn’t even disinfect ourselves properly,” he said, using the official name of the virus, which now has killed 750,831 people since the recognition of the pandemic 18 months ago.
“We weren’t allowed to wear masks or have social distancing. There was a lot of denial in senior management about the impact of the modern plague. “And there was no paid vacation” for the workers who tested positive. “People were afraid of being written.”
Bosses and venture capitalists “were prepared to sacrifice” workers, quality and safety “for a profit,” he said.
“We need real mandatory regulations for forced distancing, better ‘separation between workers and jobs’ and protection against retaliation. “
Marielena, a Honduran woman at night at a North Carolina poultry processing plant – who used a pseudonym because of past company reprisals against other workers – said workers didn’t even have enough time to “sanitize your hands” for 30 minutes. meal breaks.
“The bosses didn’t care. We still don’t have physical distancing. They are installing sanitation stations, but they are more for show than to be used. Our supervisors urge us to use every available minute to hunt chickens and slaughter them. There is no time or support to observe safety rules.
“Each of us in my factory – every worker – has been infected with Covid-19. “
OSHA administrator Frederick, a former senior Steelworker safety and health official, said OSHA would rely on worker complaints and on-site inspections to catch offenders, as it says. made for other safety and health offenders. “Serious” violations would result in fines of up to $ 13,600 each. “Serious and intentional” offenses would be punishable by a fine of up to $ 136,000.
What OSHA would do without a response if entire ‘red’ states, led by their right-wing governors and legislatures, ordered companies not to impose physical distancing and / or force workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly tests.
Frederick pointed out that most companies are already following federal anti-virus guidelines to protect their workers. But if the Republicans, led by the virulent representative against the Foxx workers, had what they wanted, no one would be protected at all. Too much of a burden on employers, she shouted.
Republicans also promised to introduce legislation, under the Gingrich-era Congressional Review Act, to kill the OSHA anti-virus standard. The CRA is particularly dangerous for workers: not only does it nullify a worker protection standard, but it also bars the Department of Labor, including OSHA, from tackling this particular problem again.