As Oregon Counties Improve COVID-19 Risk Level, Workplace Safety Must Be Prioritized
For the first time since November, the counties comprising the Portland Metropolitan Area will move to High Risk from Extreme Risk, according to the office of Governor Kate Brown. The decrease in risk levels brings changes to counties moving off of the Extreme Risk category, including limited indoor dining, expanding the allowed capacity of outdoor events to 200 people, and allowing for some inside visitation for long-term care settings. In total, 12 Oregon counties shifted their risk levels with 10 counties coming down from the state’s highest risk level for COVID-19 transmission.
Oregon’s unions encourage lawmakers as well as workers to continue to prioritize workplace safety as counties ease up on restrictions.
“As counties reopen, it will present increased challenges to workers and especially to workplace safety measures. We know that folks want to get back to work, to resume any form of normalcy, but together we need to prioritize each others’ safety,” said Graham Trainor, Oregon AFL-CIO President. “The Oregon legislature has a responsibility to not only determine our state’s path forward to recovery, but to create a culture of safety in every Oregon workplace to reduce the risk to working people. Oregon’s unions are united and clear in our ask to lawmakers: Protect workers on the job, ensure our most vulnerable communities have what they need to weather the pandemic and give us the tools we need to enforce safety at work. In some parts of the country, essential workers are over half as likely to contract COVID-19. As more people enter workplaces, restaurants, schools, and the other places we all miss visiting we have to make sure every worker is protected as best we possibly can.”
Unions and worker advocates remain hopeful that workers will receive the tools they need to help keep workplaces safe as COVID-19 and its variants continue to spread. As of data released on February 10 by the Oregon Health Authority, there have been 92 deaths and 17,386 cases associated with COVID-19 outbreaks on the job - an increase of 4 deaths and 433 cases since February 3.
“Access to safe workplaces is a bedrock value of the labor movement,” said President Trainor. “When we see reports about the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration being inundated with complaints about workplace safety, we know there’s a problem and that it will impact workers. We need the infrastructure to handle each and every complaint effectively, but at the same time, we need to keep an eye out for employers who might discipline or even fire an employee for speaking up. Work has to be safe, and workers have to feel safe in order to speak up about a potentially lethal hazard. That’s where union advocacy combined with legislative policy can really have an impact, and why legislation like Senate Bill 483 is so critical right now. SB 483 has been scheduled for its first legislative hearing on February 17. We are hopeful that Oregon OSHA’s proposed Permanent Standard for COVID-19 will help expeditiously increase workplace safety, and are eager to see the Biden Administration make significant progress on this front as well.”
The Oregon AFL-CIO has compiled OHA data into a searchable online database of workplace outbreaks of COVID-19, which may be found at www.oraflcio.org/osha.