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American Workers ‘Are Being Hung Out To Dry’ During The Pandemic

Published Thursday, May 14, 2020
by Mike Elk/Opinion Contributor Via Business Insider
American Workers ‘Are Being Hung Out To Dry’ During The Pandemic

Across the US, Front-Line Workers are facing down dangerous conditions caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

An outbreak that started at a Smithfield Food Processing Plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has resulted in more than 1,000 linked cases and is one of the largest identified outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in the Nation

An investigation by Buzzfeed showed the company failed to take steps to head off the outbreak. 

And the Federal Government's Chief Watchdog for Worker Safety - the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), announced it will not enforce Coronavirus Safety Guidelines if meat processing plants act in "good faith."

Outside of meat plants, other Workers are fighting unsafe conditions.

Nurses in PittsburghSanta Monica, and Michigan went on Strike in an effort to obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as thousands of Front-Line Healthcare Workers are exposed to patients with COVID-19. 

Experts say Front-Line Workers are being exposed needlessly to COVID-19, due to a lack of clear Federal Standards protecting them

"There is ‘no’ leadership because Federal OSHA ‘has rolled over and said we are not protecting Workers,’" says Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA Policy Adviser during the Obama Administration. 

Ten years ago, after the outbreak of H1N1, also known as Swine Flu, the Obama Administration began work on regulations that would have protected Workers in the event of a pandemic like COVID-19.

However, for more than a decade large corporations blocked these rules from being implemented. 

This delay means Workers are now needlessly risking their health in unsafe conditions and risks extending the length of the pandemic as businesses scramble to figure out what to do to confront the crisis.

In 2009, the Obama Administration began rule-making on a series of bold reforms that would have created Workplace Safety Standards against infectious disease for Front-Line Workers.

The rule-making followed the outbreak of the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 that killed 4,000 Americans. 

"There was ‘enormous’ outreach.  We were ‘working incredibly closely with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) right away.’  We were ‘working with Unions and the whole (National) AFL-CIO and all the associations that represented Nurses and Social Workers,’" says Berkowitz, who now serves as the Worker Health and Safety Director at the National Employment Labor Project (NELP).  "We ‘actually had them in, talking with us and developing’ protocols."

However, for the better part of a decade, the rules went nowhere after Republicans took control of Congress in 2012.

Worried about budget cuts if they implemented the rules, the Obama Administration simply sat on them

Then in 2017, once the Trump Administration took office, OSHA ended the rule-making process and buried the ideas. 

So now, in the face of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Workers are left with little protection and employers have few clear guidelines.

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