AFT, AFSCME, WSNA, and UNAC/UHCP Sued Trump’s OSHA in October for Neglecting Frontline Healthcare Workers as COVID-19 Raged

In New Filing, Biden Admin Agrees to Update Court on OSHA’s Priorities in 60 Days; Parties Request That Case Be Put on Hold 

San Francisco, C.A. — In response to a lawsuit brought last fall, the Biden administration told a federal court that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “intends to prioritize the development of an infectious diseases standard for the healthcare sector” that would protect healthcare workers from infectious diseases spread by contact, droplets, or the air — like influenza, COVID-19, and Ebola.

In October, 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) filed suit against Trump’s OSHA. The case challenges the unlawful Trump-era delay of rulemaking on a permanent OSHA standard to protect healthcare workers from the spread of infectious diseases.

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 enormously. According to the CDC, more than 408,000 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 1,400 have died.

Last Tuesday, the parties moved to place the case in abeyance and to file a status report in 60 days, updating the court on OSHA’s prioritization of an infectious diseases standard. The court approved the motion on Friday.

In response, the groups issued the following joint statement:

“We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s representations about prioritizing rulemaking on a permanent infectious diseases standard.

“Healthcare professionals across the nation are working tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19. They should be able to rest assured that their employers are required to take steps to protect them from exposure to infectious diseases like COVID-19, the flu, Ebola, and more.

“The Trump administration’s unlawful decision to stall progress on an infectious diseases standard is still causing harm. We’ll continue our fight to ensure OSHA moves ahead with these critical workplace protections for our nation’s healthcare professionals.”


OSHA currently lacks a legally enforceable occupational safety and health standard requiring healthcare employers to protect employees against most infectious diseases. This 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.

OSHA was on track to issue an infectious diseases standard in 2017 after years spent considering the matter after unions filed a petition 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.

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.

Democracy Forward filed suit on behalf of the unions 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.


Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that represents organizations, individuals, and municipalities in impact litigation to keep corruption out of policymaking.

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

Oriana Korin
American Federation of Teachers
(202) 374-6103

Omar Tewfik
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Jeff Rogers
(909) 263-7230