Put Workers First in COVID Response

May 14, 2020 | 10:00 am
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler
Jeremy Richardson
Former Contributor

As I often say to friends and colleagues, the issues we face as a society are complex and simply cannot be reduced to bumper sticker slogans. Sometimes, however, the reality is strikingly simply—and staring us right in the face.

After lobbying by the Chamber of Commerce, the administration initially dragged its feet in using the authority granted by the Defense Production Act to manufacture ventilators and much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) in short supply to protect frontline workers. This left health care providers to fend for themselves. On April 2, the administration finally used emergency authority evidently to outbid states and hospitals trying to obtain critical supplies and confiscating shipments of supplies to states.

As the pandemic reached meat processing facilities, causing more than 10,000 infections and the deaths of at least 45 workers, the administration decided to use that emergency authority to force those facilities to continue production. But without adequate safety protections for the workers in those facilities. In other words, as my colleague Derrick Z. Jackson put it, “meat is critical infrastructure; workers, no so much.”

The president himself is now receiving daily testing and practicing some social distancing. It would appear the White House understands how to protect against the virus but has taken no real steps to extend life saving protections to working people.

Given that, Congress must require that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) immediately institute a temporary emergency standard that requires employers to ensure their workers are protected from the virus.