April 26, 2021

Warren, Baldwin, Duckworth And Colleagues Urge Biden Admin to Issue Delayed OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard for Workers

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) led a group of colleagues in urging the Biden administration to issue the delayed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to finally provide workers with enforceable health and safety protections specific to COVID-19.  

OSHA has the statutory authority to issue an ETS to take immediate effect if workers are exposed to grave danger from exposure to hazards and an emergency standard is necessary to protect workers from the hazard. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. The EO called on the Department of Labor (DOL) and OSHA to consider whether any ETS on COVID-19, including masks in the workplace, are necessary, and if such standards were determined to be necessary, issue them by March 15, 2021. The standard has still not been issued. 

"More than a month has now passed since your deadline for issuing an ETS. The consequences of each day of delay are dire - and potentially fatal - for frontline workers who have toiled without enforceable health or safety standards specific to COVID-19 since the beginning of this pandemic," the lawmakers wrote

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of essential workers have become sick, and many have died, after being exposed at their workplaces. In the food industry alone, an estimated nearly 90,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 383 have died from the disease.  A majority of essential workers are at increased risk for severe COVID-19.

"An ETS will prevent additional, unnecessary worker illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19. We urge you to issue this necessary standard without further delay," the lawmakers wrote.

In addition to Senators Warren, Baldwin and Duckworth, the letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.). 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Warren has been leading the charge to protect workers:

  • In May 2020, Senator Warren requested the Department of Labor Inspector General (IG) open an investigation into OSHA's handling of inspections and citations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the DOL's failure to issue an OSHA ETS, which the IG's office agreed to consider in June. The DOL IG's report affirmed the importance of an ETS, given "(g)uidance in and of itself cannot operate in lieu of an ETS as an enforcement tool."
  • Senator Warren sharply criticized OSHA on September 10, 2020 for failing to hold Smithfield Foods and other meatpacking companies accountable for putting thousands of essential workers  at risk, thereby sending a message to the industry that OSHA was working for big business, not workers.
  • On September 22, Senators Warren and Booker pressed OSHA regarding the agency's delayed and feckless response to the dozens of reports of COVID-19 outbreaks affecting thousands of workers in hundreds of meatpacking facilities across the country.
  • In October 2020, Senators Warren and Booker released the Department of Labor's inadequate, half-page response to their inquiry about why OSHA failed to take quick and sufficient actions to enforce workplace safety laws and protect workers in meatpacking plants.
  • In April 2020, Senator Warren introduced the Essential Workers Bill of Rights to ensure workers have the full suite of rights, protections, and benefits they need and deserve during the COVID-19 pandemic, including enforceable health and safety protections through an OSHA ETS.