worker putting face mask on
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Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh headshot
Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh

Several labor organizations and unions representing healthcare workers filed suit Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, urging the court to order the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a permanent standard that requires employers to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19 after OSHA announced last week that it has withdrawn some aspects of its healthcare emergency temporary standard.

The standard that OSHA adopted in June required healthcare settings such as long-term care providers to conduct hazard assessments and have written plans in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, along with requiring healthcare employers to provide some employees with personal protective equipment. Additionally, the standard included social distancing, employee screening, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

“The unions file this petition because the agency tasked with shielding nurses and other healthcare workers from unsafe work conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health

Administration (OSHA), has failed to protect them as expressly required by law,” according to court records filed by National Nurses United, New York State Nurses Association, Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

According to the petitioners, “OSHA does not have discretion to create a temporal hole with indefinite duration in the regulatory framework of healthcare worker protections while a pandemic rages.” The lawsuit names Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker.

“In failing to follow their own mandate to create a permanent standard, OSHA has put nurses, healthcare workers and the public’s health at risk of even greater harm. The Department of Labor has left nurses and their patients in serious jeopardy,” NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane, RN, said.

The American Federation of Government Employees previously announced its opposition to OSHA’s withdrawal of the standard in a statement Tuesday.

“While we applaud OSHA for working on a permanent infectious disease standard, something our union has long fought for, we know that finalizing such a standard will take years — which is time our front-line workers do not have as the omicron variant continues to surge, resulting in thousands of new infections each day,” AFGE National President National President Everett Kelley said. 

“Despite rising vaccination and booster rates, we are still in a healthcare crisis. This decision is a step backwards for healthcare workers, who are now entering year three of risking their health in service of the American public,” he added.