Killing Worker Safety: Amid a deadly pandemic, Trump's OSHA puts companies ahead of workers.

AuthorCook, Christopher D.
PositionPresident Donald Trump's Occupational Safety and Health Administration

"Everyone was worried about infecting our families," she recalls. "We had a lot of fear because there were not the necessary precautions. No masks, no hand sanitizer. No distancing."

Ramirez says she and others "made complaints to the heads of the plant," to no avail. Soon, like hundreds of thousands of essential workers across the United States (largely in the food industry and health care facilities) she became infected with the coronavirus. Despite experiencing stomach and throat pain, and even coughing up blood, she "could not go to a doctor because everything was virtual." Then, literally adding insult to injury, "when we complained and demanded more protections, they fired us."

Ramirez and her fellow workers are among the millions of workers who have been endangered by unsafe and unregulated workplaces during the pandemic. Many are being fired for speaking up. "There have been scores of cases of health-care workers fired for insisting on proper PPE [personal protective equipment] or even bringing in their own N-95 respirators from home," wrote Representative Bobby Scott, Democrat of Virginia, in a May 11 letter to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), urging change. "Others were fired for talking to the press or using social media to describe unsafe conditions in their facilities."

After persistent worker action and pressure, together with advocacy by the Wisconsin-based nonprofit Voces de la Frontera, Ramirez and twenty-seven other Strauss employees are getting some modest re-compensation, as a result of a settlement with the company. "Thanks to God," she says, "the first payment arrived from the settlement and I was able to pay my rent with that."

Ramirez continues to suffer "chronic symptoms" from her bout with COVID-19. As of this writing, she is without health insurance and looking for another job. After first being notified of problems in April, OSHA is now investigating what happened at Strauss.

While much of the U.S. economy went into a partial freeze earlier this year, millions of American workers were required to keep toiling amid the peril of the pandemic. As of September 18, according to a tally maintained by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, at least 59,430 food industry workers, mostly in meatpacking but also food processing workers and farmworkers, have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 254 have died.

Through September 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 160,380 COVID-19 cases and 703 deaths among health-care workers--although other estimates found at least 1,000 U.S. health-care workers have died so far. Workers in prisons and Veterans Affairs facilities are also imperiled, union complaints show.

The Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Veterans Affairs have compelled workers to stay on the job even when they have "come in contact with or been in close proximity to individuals who have shown symptoms of the virus," according to complaints filed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nations largest public employee union.

Even these unionized, public-sector facilities are "failing to provide workers with N-95 respirators and other necessary personal protective equipment," AFGE says, and "refusing to provide COVID-19 testing to employees who have been exposed to those known or suspected of having the virus." The Bureau of Prisons "has even recalled staff who have been screened and ordered home due to possible exposure within forty-eight hours...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT