AFL-CIO’s Lawsuit Against OSHA Fails

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO that would have forced the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to create an emergency workplace safety rule, called an “emergency temporary standard” (ETS) related to COVID-19 in the workplace.

The AFL-CIO filed its lawsuit on May 18 filing a petition for a “writ of mandamus” to compel OSHA to “issue an emergency temporary standard protecting U.S. workers against the coronavirus.”

“It’s truly a sad day in America when working people must sue the organization tasked with protecting our health and safety,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

In its press release announcing the lawsuit, the labor union added, “The AFL-CIO and several of its affiliated unions have pursued worker protections for years, petitioning OSHA to adopt a general infectious disease standard as early as 2009 in the wake of SARS and other threatened pandemics, and the agency initiated rulemaking procedures, but never issued a standard.”

In its ruling (“American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, No. 20-1158”), the three-judge Court of Appeals panel said that OSHA alone has the authority to decide whether to issue new rules related to workplace safety.

In AFL-CIO’s response to the court’s ruling, Trumka said, “We are very disappointed that three judges did not deem the lives of America’s workers worthy of holding an argument or issuing a full opinion.”

In OSHA’s response to the court ruling, Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary for OSHA, and Kale O’Scannlain, solicitor of labor for the U.S. Department of Labor, said, “We are pleased with the decision from the D.C. Circuit, which agreed that OSHA reasonably determined that its existing statutory and regulatory tools are protecting America’s workers, and that an emergency temporary standard is not necessary at this time. OSHA will continue to enforce the law and offer guidance to employers and employees to keep America’s workplaces safe.”

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