Report: OSHA fails to protect workers from COVID-19

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt have failed to take basic steps to curb the spread of the virus in workplaces across America, according to the Government Accountability Project.

Lax protection has impacted employees most vulnerable to the pandemic. Recently, the CDC reviewed  available data on COVID-19 cases in “hot spot” counties and found 75 percent and 28 percent of those counties had disproportionate rates of Latino and Black people, respectively, suffering from COVID-19.

In the corporate-controlled meat processing industry in particular, Latino and Asian workers endure racially discriminatory impacts from COVID-19 compared to their white co-workers: in the nearly 10,000 COVID-19 cases in those facilities reported in 21 states before June, 87 percent occurred among minority workers.

Public Justice has joined Food Chain Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, Towards Justice, the Government Accountability Project, the Union of Concerned Scientists and 19 other groups in calling on Scalia and Sweatt to resign.

From meatpacking workers at SmithfieldTyson and JBS plants to Amazon warehouse workers at the online retailer’s largest distribution center, employees have pushed some of the country’s largest employers to implement commonsense safety measures because the DOL and OSHA will not — as their testimony during a recent federal court hearing demonstrates.

At that July federal court hearing, OSHA witnesses explained that the agency’s default practice is not to inspect any workplaces other than medical facilities. Instead, OSHA leadership ordered one inspector to notify a plant of an inspection before it took place in order to protect the safety of the inspector, which allowed the plant to create an appearance of safety. OSHA also confirmed it would never consider a failure to socially distance or even provide masks a danger to workers — even when states and the federal government are calling on all Americans to socially distance and wear masks for their own safety.

The country’s meatpacking plants have become an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. More than 56,000 food system workers have tested positive for the infection and 241 of those have died. Smithfield, Tyson and JBS alone account for more than 14,000 of those infections.

Sweatt recently said — in response to a lawsuit filed against OSHA on behalf of workers in Pennsylvania — that the agency had “issued one” and only one COVID-related citation. An OSHA lawyer later increased that to four citations, out of more than 7,000 complaints. (By comparison, as of Friday, New York state has suspended 149 liquor licenses over social distancing compliance failures since July 1.)