The union battle versus Trump administration over bringing workers back, safely

More than three years after taking office, the administration has never filled the job running the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is charged with enforcing workplace safety laws. The $560 million-a-year agency, whose estimated 2,000 inspectors performed 32,020 on-site inspections in 2018, spent months not doing any in-person inspections related to coronavirus, other than in hospitals, said Rebecca Reindel, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO.

OSHA has issued only one citation for violations of workplace safety laws related to Covid-19, according to its own testimony to Congress, to a Georgia nursing home that failed to report that a staffer had been hospitalized. The lone citation is despite well-documented shortages of required personal protective equipment at hospitals and Covid-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants. 

The dispute has spilled into the courts, as the full U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia is being asked by the AFL-CIO to consider an appeal of a June decision by a court panel siding with OSHA and denying the labor federation’s request for a rule that gives employers specific guidelines for dealing with Covid-19.  

“We know 125,000 people have died, and we know the workplace is a major source of exposure,” said Reindel. “Besides, it’s the only place most people are going.″

A petition for a rehearing by the full court is pending, according to AFL-CIO general counsel Craig Becker. “We are hopeful that a majority of the judges on the court will give this critically important issue the attention it deserves. We expect a decision on whether the full court will consider the case soon."

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