August 05, 2020

Warren Joins Menendez, Colleagues in Urging Trump Admin to Address Reports of Retaliation among Workers of Color Who Report COVID-19 Workplace Concerns

‘…Black workers are more than twice as likely as white workers to have seen possible retaliation by their employer’

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, and a group of 19 colleagues in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding reports that workers of color face disproportionate acts of retaliation when reporting workplace concerns related to COVID-19. A recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found one in eight workers has perceived retaliatory actions from employers for raising safety concerns related to the pandemic. Furthermore, the report showed that Black and Latino workers were more likely to see retaliation in the workplace than white workers. Black and Latino workers were also more likely than white workers to have their COVID-19 concerns go unaddressed by their employers.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, workers who report workplace hazard concerns to their employers or OSHA are protected from being retaliated against from their employer. Without these whistleblower protections, employers could fire or punish workers who speak out.

"We write today with serious concerns regarding reports that workers of color face disproportionate acts of retaliation when reporting workplace concerns related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic," the senators wrote to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia and OSHA Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt. "To date, federal OSHA has received over 5,000 complaints related to COVID-19, yet it has only issued a handful of citations, one of which was a reporting violation. As workers who were home at the start of the pandemic begin to return to work, these concerns of unsafe workplaces will only grow."

"We are troubled by recent reports that employers have taken retaliatory actions against workers, specifically workers of color, who have asked that their concerns regarding COVID-19 be addressed," the senators added. "A June data brief released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that Black and Latino workers were more likely than white workers to report that they or someone at work may have been punished or fired for raising concerns about COVID-19 in the workplace."

"Workers need to trust that OSHA will enforce whistleblower protections to shield them against retaliation when reporting workplace hazards, and hold bad employers accountable. Without confidence in OSHA, as the report illustrates, employers will be free to silence and punish Black and Latino workers," the senators concluded before outlining a series of questions about the number of investigations, complaints and completed cases to date.

Joining Senators Warren and Menendez in sending this letter were Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

In June, Senator Warren introduced the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act, which establishes strong whistleblower protections for private sector workers and government contractors who may witness waste, fraud, or abuse or be victims of misconduct related to Coronavirus relief. The bill would protect Americans who call out wrongdoing, protect against all retaliation, and establish a safe, secure, and anonymous process for whistleblowers' claims to be investigated by OSHA. In April, Senator Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) proposed an Essential Workers Bill of Rights that includes protections for whistleblowers, as well as enforceable health and safety protections for essential workers. In May, Senator Warren also called on Amazon to provide more information about their discipline and termination policies after they fired several workers who were advocating on behalf of worker safety in warehouses.