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In response to Labor Secretary Walsh’s announcement that OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) will apply only to healthcare workers

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Gina Cummings, VP of Alliances, Advocacy, and Policy for Oxfam America, made the following statement:

“Today’s announcement that OSHA’s long-overdue ETS for COVID-19 will pertain only to the healthcare industry leaves millions of essential workers without enforceable protections on the job at a time of profound and ongoing danger.

While it is important that healthcare professionals will be protected by this standard, excluding workers across the rest of the economy is a slap in the face to those who still find themselves in hazardous workplaces, where employers do little to protect their safety.

This decision represents a shameful failure of leadership by an administration that was elected on a platform of standing for the needs of all working people.

Essential workers have carried the US through the pandemic, ensuring that our economy could function. The pandemic exposed the often-terrible conditions that millions of workers--disproportionately women and people of color--have long faced in a range of industries, at the same time that it escalated risks to their lives and their families.

Sadly, this is the second time this administration has disregarded the needs of essential workers: the recent CDC mask guidance was issued with no regard for the confusion and danger it would present in environments where there is no way to determine whether people are vaccinated. Meanwhile, vaccination rates are lagging in precisely the communities of color that predominantly work in these jobs.

The Biden administration is claiming that the decision on limiting the ETS reflects CDC expertise and the realities on the ground--but we know that some sectors are nearly as hazardous as healthcare, including hospitality and meatpacking. Limiting the ETS in this way sends a clear signal that this Administration will prioritize some workers over others, and bow to attacks of their political opponents above the urgent needs of frontline workers.

We’ve learned over decades that employers, especially in low wage industries, rarely choose to prioritize their workers’ safety; we need government to mandate actions that safeguard lives and well-being. To rely only on unenforceable guidance is almost certainly to condemn workers to face exposure to this potentially deadly virus.

Oxfam and our partners and allies will be working hard in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the Administration hears from workers loud and clear that this is simply unacceptable.”

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