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Oregon’s Unions Urge Governor Brown to Strengthen COVID-19 Protection Rules

The Oregon AFL-CIO and Oregon’s Unions have escalated their call for greater COVID-19 protections for workers, urging Governor Kate Brown and Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood to strengthen proposed rules concerning COVID-19 and workplace safety. Oregon OSHA, the state agency charged with keeping workers safe on the job, released draft rules to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure in August. The current and proposed rules to make sure work is safe in the midst of a deadly global pandemic are not enough, says the Oregon AFL-CIO, which means workers are being needlessly exposed to COVID-19 resulting in workplace outbreaks across the state.

Continued Federal OSHA abdication of responsibility has been a major problem for working Americans throughout this pandemic, including the recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledgment of the primary transmission of COVID-19 being through the air but quickly removing that information from their website. Oregon must take swift and strong action to protect workers from the continued unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 when the Federal government refuses to do so.

“We are urging the Governor to use the power of her office and work directly with Oregon OSHA to make work safe for working Oregonians,” explained Graham Trainor, Oregon AFL-CIO President. “Working people were called “heroes” and “essential” in the beginning of the pandemic. The State of Oregon must treat working Oregonians as heroes and as essential by creating strong rules to protect from exposure to COVID-19 and hold employers accountable when they don’t follow the rules.”

In a letter to Oregon OSHA and the Governor’s office, President Trainor explained these concerns with the proposed safety measures:

“Oregon OSHA has waited far too long to establish a rule protecting workers from infectious disease, and the provisions laid out in the draft Emergency Temporary Standard have fallen far short of what is needed to effectively control workplace exposures to the [COVID-19] virus. The proposal’s requirements do not reflect the significant amount of existing science and information on the airborne, droplet and contact routes of [COVID-19] transmission. We are especially concerned with the proposal’s lack of a comprehensive, programmatic approach that would require a hazard assessment and clear protections across industries. The idea of allowing sick workers to continue working and the potential removal of the requirement to provide compensation to employees in need of medical removal protections after being infected or exposed. Workers should not be penalized for doing what is necessary to stop the spread of this deadly virus. The potential removal of the compensation requirement is essentially an exemption for lower wage workers, who will be forced to continue working after being exposed, for fear of losing much needed wages. This exemption disproportionately affects workers of color, and will only exacerbate the already disparate workplace outbreaks that are falling on industries like agriculture and food processing. This decision isn’t one Oregon OSHA should make if the goal is to alleviate workplace exposures in industries hardest hit.”

The Oregon AFL-CIO has launched a series of mobilization efforts to bring this matter to the attention of Governor Brown, Oregon OSHA, and elected leaders. In a video posted to the Oregon AFL-CIO Facebook page, Matt Lass, a Firefighter for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and member of IAFF Local 1660, explained his concerns: “With so many COVID outbreaks happening at workplaces across the state, especially in BIPOC communities, it’s past time to take strong action. That’s why Oregon OSHA needs to make stronger rules for employers. Their proposed rule regarding PPE is weaker than what we’re already working under. Oregon OSHA is the only agency that is tasked with the health and safety of Oregon’s workers, and their proposed rules fall too short.”

The Oregon AFL-CIO is the statewide federation of labor unions, represents over 300,000 working people in Oregon, and will continue to engage Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Oregon OSHA on this critical issue until strong workplace safety rules governing COVID-19 exposure are implemented and enforced.

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