Countless frontline and essential workers, including hundreds of thousands of Teamster members, have become infected, ill, or have died from exposure to COVID-19 at work. These workers have frequently faced life-threatening hazards while providing medical care, food, shelter and transportation, and other essential services we all need. So far in the United States, close to 1 million have died, and 140 million have been infected with COVID-19.
Throughout the past two years, the IBT Safety and Health Department have dedicated itself to providing the best information possible to Teamster members and local unions, lending support to bargaining between local unions with employers, and participating in the regulatory and legislative process to help protect our members and communities from infection and spread of COVID-19.
A variety of information on COVID-19 is available on www.teamstersafety.org, including updated safety and health facts, the rights of workers and unions and responsibilities of employers, and model contract language.
The Right to Safe Working Conditions
Employers are required by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or state OSHA plans as a ‘general duty’ to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. This is in addition to specific requirements under various OSHA standards. You have the right to file a complaint (confidential or not) with OSHA if you believe your working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful. The best way to do this is to consult your union representative and have the union file a complaint.
Public employees, however, are provided OSHA coverage only in states with their own state plan. These “are OSHA-approved workplace safety and health programs operated by individual states or U.S. territories. There are currently 22 state plans covering both private sector and state and local government workers, and there are six state plans covering only state and local government workers.”
Effective Approach to Prevention
During this time, we have learned that it is necessary to have all possible protective measures in place to protect workers from the spread of the virus. A ‘layered’ prevention approach is the most effective way to help limit severe disease and reduce the potential for strain on the healthcare system. These measures include:
- Vaccination to protect from developing severe symptoms, hospitalization, or death, especially those on the frontlines, those with underlying medical conditions, and the immunocompromised;
- Improving ventilation (including filter ratings and air changes per hour);
- Wearing high-quality masks provided by the employer;
- Physical distancing
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using county COVID-19 Community Levels to help determine which COVID-19 prevention measures to use for individuals and communities.
Caution: The current guidelines from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), which recommend that people who are sick or exposed to COVID-19 reduce the number of days to quarantine or isolate, may require some workers to return to work when they are still infectious or have not had time to recover.
Below are a few important collective steps that the Union can take:
- Get together with coworkers to talk about your shared concerns.
- Learn about your rights to safe working conditions, to raise health and safety issues with your employer, and other protections.
- Decide what you want to ask of your employer, using the above demands as a guide.
- Develop an action plan for approaching the employer and what to do if the employer’s response is not helpful.
Collective bargaining may address worker protection beyond what is prescribed by OSHA, other issues affecting work conditions, and conditions involving an employer whose workforce is under 100 employees and therefore would not be covered by the OSHA vaccine mandate.
Information and Resources
For concerns, questions, and information, contact the IBT Safety and Health Department at (202) 624-6960 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: https://teamster.org/COVID-19