Speech | Workplace Health and Safety

Trumka: Federal Government Must Act to Protect Workers

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at a roundtable with President-Elect Joe Biden, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and leaders from the business community and labor movement about how to keep workers safe in the face of COVID-19. 

Thank you, Cecilia (Munoz).

On behalf of the 55 unions and 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO, it is an honor to join my fellow leaders in labor and business for today’s discussion.

Mr. President-elect and Madame Vice President-elect, there are many things we can do to keep workers safe from COVID-19.

We need to manufacture the respirators and personal protective equipment that continue to be in short supply.

We need to make the investments to retrofit our workplaces and schools to meet the ventilation and distancing requirements scientists and workplace safety experts tell us are absolutely vital.

We need to make sure all COVID-19 cases are counted and reported so we know where the major outbreaks are before they get worse.

But with close to 200,000 Americans becoming infected every day and workers dying at alarming rates, especially in communities of color, the most important thing we can do on day one is to reestablish OSHA’s mission of protecting workers.

For four years, OSHA has been AWOL. There’s been no full-time director.

There are fewer inspectors today than at any point in the agency’s history. OSHA has been totally absent during this pandemic and workers across industries have been left to fend for ourselves.

One of the best ways OSHA can reestablish its mission is through an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from COVID-19.

We’ve petitioned for it. We’ve sued for it. I can tell you that working people voted for it. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

President-elect Biden will remember that the Obama administration was developing a strong enforceable standard that would have provided employers both the tools and the mandate to protect workers from infectious diseases.

President Trump scrapped it upon taking office, part of his reckless and dangerous deregulation agenda. Now that America has elected the Biden-Harris team, the standard must go forward.

An emergency standard would quickly put in place requirements for employers across the country as we enter this very difficult period in the pandemic.

And it would set in motion a six-month timeline to create a long overdue permanent standard so we are better prepared if and when the next outbreak occurs.

The president-elect rightfully reminds us that a job is about more than a paycheck—it’s about dignity. And if we believe that all work has dignity, then all workplaces need to focus on safety.

It’s not too late to save tens of thousands of lives.

That starts with a strong COVID-19 safety standard on day one.