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US trade unions to sue over failure to protect workers from Covid-19

US TRADE unionists have filed papers to sue the country’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), accusing President Donald Trump of refusing to force companies to protect workers from Covid-19.

The AFL-CIO, which represents nearly 13 million workers in the US, filed a suit with the Court of Appeals in Washington DC on Monday.

The federation insisted that the matter was urgent as states were starting to let businesses reopen and crowds of people were beginning to gather, increasing the risk of the spread of coronavirus.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said: “It’s truly a sad day in America when working people must sue the organisation tasked with protecting our health and safety, but we’ve been left no choice.

“Millions are infected and nearly 90,000 have died, so it’s beyond urgent that action is taken to protect workers who risk our lives daily to respond to this public-health emergency. If the Trump administration refuses to act, we must compel them to.”

The federation has demand a hearing within 12 days, giving time for OSHA to give a written response to the claim, with a court order to follow 30 days thereafter.

“Thousands of workers have been infected on the job through exposure to infected patients, co-workers, and unscreened members of the public.

“As the economy reopens and people return to work, person-to-person contact will increase, and health experts predict the already shocking number of infections and deaths among workers will rise,” the federation warned in a statement.

The move came after the union federation wrote to US Labour Secretary Eugene Scalia, demanding that tougher mandatory measures replace the current guidance, which is voluntary and lacks legislative power.

But Mr Scalia insisted that new mandatory standards were not necessary, claiming that the current voluntary code was sufficient.

The National Council of Occupational Safety and Health (Nacosh) is also concerned over the lack of protection for workers

Nacosh spokeswoman Jessica Martinez, a public-health specialist, said it was essential that “workers are at the table” in discussions about safety in a post-Covid-19 world and the development of state and federal guidelines.

But current workplace conditions, even before the virus hit, produce “an unequal balance of power in the workplace [that] means safety often takes a back seat — especially for workers of colour, immigrants, and others in marginalised communities,” she said.

“Fortunately, working people are not accepting the status quo. The risk and horrible consequences … have led to an unprecedented number of walk-outs and other job actions — and in most cases, workers have been successful in winning protections to reduce risks to themselves, co-workers, their families and the public at large.”

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