Lawmakers take action to protect essential workers during the pandemic

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – U.S. lawmakers are calling on the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take stronger measures to protect essential workers.

After a request from Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), the Department of Labor Office of Inspector Generals is reviewing OSHA’s actions during the pandemic, because OSHA has yet to put any Emergency Temporary Standards in place for businesses to follow to keep employees safe.

In April lawmakers introduced the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act.

It would require OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard that establishes a legal obligation for all workplaces to keep workers safe, followed by a permanent plan.

The legislation was included in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives last month, but is still waiting to be voted on by the Senate.

Baldwin says the lack of direction has left businesses trying to reopen confused about how to protect employees and customers.

“We need instructions, a checklist if you will. At a recent senate hearing, leaders from businesses were calling for these enforceable standards. They want that set of instructions so they know what they need to be preparing for,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin also wants protections for whistleblower employees who have been retaliated against for speaking out about safety concerns in the workplace.

“We’ve seen some very troubling retaliation against workers who express concerns in their workplaces. Whether that’s to their manager, or supervisor, or sometimes to the press or on social media or by calling elected officials…” “…when it comes to light, a number of these workers have been retaliated against, terminated in some cases.”

Baldwin expressed frustration with the DOL and OSHA, explaining that lawmakers shouldn’t have to introduce a bill for them, “I regard the issue of Emergency Temporary Standards as OSHA’s job, and the Department of Labor’s job. They haven’t done it, so we’re trying to force them to do it through enacting legislation.”