Prioritizing Safety for Healthcare Workers and Patients
The AFT and our fellow unions have won a significant victory in the fight to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases spread by contact, droplet, or air. One of the biggest obstacles to health professionals feeling safe at work during the pandemic has been the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) lack of a safety and health standard for infectious diseases. The standard that had been in development since 2009 (which was itself the result of a petition by the AFT and other unions) was put on hold under the Trump administration, leaving healthcare workers without legally enforceable protection from COVID-19 through surge after surge. What’s more, under Trump, OSHA refused to enforce existing standards or even require compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. AFT members filed hundreds of complaints over the past year, and in October 2020 the AFT joined with several healthcare unions in a lawsuit demanding an immediate emergency standard and a permanent standard within two years. In February, the Biden administration informed the federal court it is prioritizing development of an infectious disease standard, and the lawsuit has been suspended. The AFT will continue to hold OSHA accountable for progress, and we invite you to do the same. Learn more here.
[Photo credit: Criselle Cruz Bermas / Facebook]
Fighting for Fairness at the State Level
From Alaska to New York, AFT locals and state federations are fighting to make working conditions under COVID-19 fairer for all workers.
- Workers’ compensation insurers have repeatedly insisted that employees cannot prove they contracted COVID-19 on the job and have delayed or denied claims outright, even with evidence of repeated and persistent exposure. Some states acted quickly to extend workers’ compensation presumption—the automatic presumption that employees in high-risk workplaces who contract COVID-19 did so at work—to health professionals and other frontline workers. But in other states, getting fair treatment for frontline workers has involved pitched battle—and AFT affiliates are leading the fight. Among them are the Alaska Nurses Association and the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) in New Jersey; both fought for and won passage of workers’ compensation presumption bills.
- In New York, the Public Employees Federation is celebrating the recent passage of two related bills: one that will extend the window for accidental death benefits to the families of public employees who contracted COVID-19 on the job, and another that allows up to four hours of paid leave for public employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
- Lack of transparency about COVID-19 on the part of employers endangers frontline workers’ lives and makes the job of protecting their health that much more difficult. The Ohio Nurses Association successfully lobbied for a state directive that the Ohio Department of Health include every Ohio hospital facility and all health workers’ COVID-19 diagnoses in the state COVID-19 data tool. HPAE in New Jersey also helped ensure the passage of a new transparency law that requires health employers to collect and regularly report data on COVID-19 infections and deaths.
[Photo credit: AFT]
Supporting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
As anti-Asian violence has risen across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFT has increased efforts to support our Asian American and Pacific Islander members and their communities. In July 2020, at the AFT’s virtual convention, AFT President Randi Weingarten announced the formation of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Task Force. The task force, which includes AFT leaders from across the country, began meeting in February 2021. Its main goal is to provide national leadership and collaborate on ways to use the strength of our union to address issues faced by AAPI communities; the most urgent issue is the spike in violent attacks against Asian Americans, including against many healthcare workers as well as against elders and women. Visit here to read the AFT’s statement of solidarity with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, hear more from AAPI Task Force leaders, find videos and other resources to help protect AAPI workers, and sign up for solidarity actions.
[Photo credit: Victoria Pickering / Flickr]