AFT, AFSCME, WSNA, and UNAC/UHCP Ask That OSHA Resume Rulemaking on Workplace Protections After Unreasonable Delay by Trump Admin

Trump’s OSHA Shirked Its Responsibility to Protect Healthcare Workers as COVID-19 Raged

San Francisco, C.A. — Today, four unions that represent over half-a-million healthcare professionals advanced their lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over its unlawful Trump-era delay of rulemaking for a permanent occupational safety and health standard to protect healthcare workers from infectious diseases spread by contact, droplets, or the air, like influenza, COVID-19, and Ebola.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) challenged the Trump administration’s unreasonable delay in issuing an Infectious Diseases Standard in October 2020. The unions are represented by Democracy Forward.

In today’s filing, the unions responded to the Trump administration’s flawed defense of its egregious failure to move forward on a permanent Infectious Diseases Standard for healthcare-related workplaces. In responding to the unions’ lawsuit, the Trump administration did not deny that healthcare workers are at high risk from infectious diseases like COVID-19. Instead, Trump administration officials touted their preference for a patchwork of toothless guidance documents and “tips” to address the risk posed by COVID-19. OSHA’s unreasonable delay of rulemaking on an Infectious Diseases Standard throughout the Trump administration violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). As such, the unions are pressing to compel OSHA to resume work on the standard.

The groups issued the following joint statement:

“The impact of the Trump administration’s decision to stall progress on the Infectious Diseases Standard was felt by the millions of frontline healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19. The Trump-era delay is still causing harm, so we’re continuing our legal fight to ensure that OSHA follows the law and moves ahead with permanent workplace protections for our nation’s healthcare workers.”

An Infectious Diseases Standard would require healthcare employers running hospitals, clinics, school nurse offices, drug treatment programs, and other similar workplaces to protect their employees from exposure to harmful infectious diseases spread by contact, droplets, or the air.

OSHA was on track to issue such a standard in 2017 after years spent considering the matter following a petition from unions asking for the standard in May 2009. But the Trump administration abruptly halted work on the standard in 2017 and refused to resume progress, despite the pleas of healthcare professionals throughout the pandemic.

OSHA currently has no legally enforceable occupational safety and health standard requiring healthcare employers to protect employees against most infectious diseases. The lack of an Infectious Diseases Standard puts millions of healthcare professionals — including the more than 150,000 represented by AFT and the more than 350,000 represented by AFSCME — at high risk of exposure to infectious diseases like influenza, COVID-19, superbugs like MRSA, and more. Before the pandemic, there were 1.7 million healthcare-associated infections each year, which posed a risk to health care workers. COVID-19 has compounded this risk. Since the unions filed suit in October, another 192,000 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19 and 540 more have died, according to the CDC.

In addition to unreasonably delaying work on a permanent standard to protect healthcare workers from a wide variety of infectious diseases, the Trump administration also refused to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard, which would protect workers from COVID-19 specifically for a six-month period. Last week, President Biden directed OSHA to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 … are necessary.”

The unions’ reply was filed on January 28 and is accessible here. Their lawsuit was filed on October 29 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Read the petition for mandamus here, and nine healthcare professionals and union leaders’ declarations in support of the suit here.

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

The American Federation of Teachers is a union of 1.7 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

AFSCME‘s 1.4 million members provide the vital services that make America happen. With members in communities across the nation, serving in hundreds of different occupations — from nurses to corrections officers, child care providers to sanitation workers — AFSCME advocates for fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and freedom and opportunity for all working families.

Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) is the leading voice and advocate for nurses in Washington state, providing representation, education and resources that allow nurses to reach their full professional potential and focus on caring for patients. WSNA represents more than 17,000 registered nurses for collective bargaining who provide care in hospitals, clinics, schools and community and public health settings across the state.

United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) represents more than 32,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; case managers; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners. UNAC/UHCP is affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.

Press Contacts

Charisma Troiano
Democracy Forward
(202) 701-1781
[email protected]

Oriana Korin
American Federation of Teachers
(202) 374-6103
[email protected]

Omar Tewfik
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
[email protected]

Jeff Rogers
UNAC/UHCP
(909) 263-7230
[email protected]