Pearl River If there were ever a time that workers needed to feel safe on the job, it’s got to be now in the middle of a pandemic. Even with the lifting of restrictions in different states and various businesses reopening, many workers are still voting with their feet, and their feet are firmly planted at home because they are wary of work, church, and public spaces in many cases. In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) is charged with protecting our health on the job, so “What me worry?” Yes, indeed, we all should!
OSHA has been strangely silent and passive during this period when you would expect that they would be leading the calvary charge to assure that businesses opened correctly and safely so that workers were able to return to the job with confidence. Instead, they seem like a footnote in this crisis.
When Local 100 United Labor Unions was confronting the giant service contractor, ResCare, about the lack of personal protection equipment in their community homes and their failure to isolate coronavirus positive consumers and inform workers fully of the situation, we filed an OSHA complaint. They promised to move forward and take it seriously. The company has now stepped up its game.
News broke recently that the warden in the federal prison system responsible for the huge facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, in the center of the state recently found himself reassigned to a desk job in the Atlanta regional office for the Bureau of Prisons and summarily replaced. Reading carefully, his quick trip came when prison employees – and their union – confronted the warden directly about not providing PPE, not informing the workforce of positive cases, and not isolating the prisoners who had contracted Covid-19. The union filed a formal OSHA complaint, and they got quick action from the bureaucrats and away the warden went.
I could add a third example: Amazon’s warehouses in France. Workers and their union objected to the lack of protection and health standards, filed suit, and the courts shut the companies warehouses down except for bare essentials. They are now gradually coming back to work on a volunteer basis with a $2 per hour raise according to their union.
I think there’s a very clear lesson here from these examples.
OSHA is a sleeping dog, whether on orders from the Trump administration, weak appointees and vacancies, Congressional defunding, or just incompetence and indifference. Like any sleeping dog though, if you give it a sharp tug, that dog can still move quickly and bark loudly.
Workers by themselves can’t get any action from OSHA. It takes collective action, like the prison guards’ confrontation, the Local 100 workers’ petition and demands on local supervisors, or the CGT in France.
Oh, and don’t forget, it’s crystal clear that you have to have a union, if you are going to get action from OSHA or any assurance that your health and safety is as importance to your employer as the cha-ching on the cash register.