Labor unions refile lawsuit calling on federal workplace safety guidelines for COVID-19

The AFL-CIO on Thursday, 18 June sought a rehearing before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in District of Columbia as it seeks to force the federal government to develop emergency workplace safety standards regarding the novel coronavirus.

The resubmission happened one week after a three-judge panel in the district denied the federation of labor unions request after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opted not to issue emergency standards. The judges said in their order that the workplace safety regulatory body “reasonably determined” such standards weren’t needed right now.

In the motion made last week, the labor groups charge that the judges failed to consider their argument that OSHA’s argument did not mesh with federal workplace safety laws.

“Given the exceptional importance of the question of whether OSHA’s refusal to issue an ETS was lawful, and the mortal danger faced by workers now being required to return to work as the economy reopens, en banc review is warranted to address the AFL-CIO’s heretofore unaddressed argument that OSHA’s refusal was plainly unlawful and puts countless workers’ lives in immediate jeopardy,” the unions’ motion states.

In March, the AFL-CIO and other labor groups petitioned OSHA asking for new standards in light of the COVID-19 crisis. After federal officials did not issue any guidance after more than two months, the unions took the agency to court.

In last week’s filing, the unions said that since their initial filing, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has grown by 50 percent.

Several business groups joined forces to file an amicus brief last month in support of the federal government’s position. That included the National Fisheries Institute and the Restaurant Law Center. They opposed the AFL-CIO lawsuit saying such a standard for COVID-19 would force all businesses to conform to a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“The Secretary of Labor’s reasoned approach provides businesses with the flexibility they need to respond to the unfolding challenges posed by the pandemic,” the brief stated.  


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