MassCOSH, National COSH, 100+ Worker Groups Release 2021 “Agenda for Worker Safety and Health”

February 03, 2021

Press Release
Jeff Newton, MassCOSH Communications Director (email preferred)
(315) 546 6391
MassCOSH, National COSH, 100+ Worker Groups Release 2021 “Agenda for Worker Safety and Health”
OSHA a catastrophic failure during pandemic; agenda outlines how Biden-Harris Administration can protect workers and rebuild our economy

BOSTON            Nearly one year into a deadly pandemic, too many Massachusetts workers are sick, dying, and broke. Around the country, and here in Massachusetts, there have been multiple COVID-19 outbreaks among retail, food processing, childcare, and nursing home workers, and many others. But the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been missing in action. No new workplace rules, not enough inspections, and often only minimal fines for employers who completely failed to protect workers. Today, MassCOSH is proud to stand with workers, unions, and occupational health and safety organizations as we jointly release a National Agenda for Worker Safety and Health. The Biden-Harris Administration has taken positive first steps, but more needs to be done. The National Agenda, endorsed by 100 worker groups and based on real workplace experiences, provides ideas, tools, and resources for a bold plan to build worker power and make our workplaces safer. This agenda is intended to help a newly empowered OSHA succeed and keep us all safe.

Until now, the response to the pandemic from employers and our government has been a catastrophic failure. The research is clear: workplaces remain key sites where the virus can spread rapidly, underscoring that workplace health and safety is public health and safety. The conditions these workers are in are not inevitable. They are the outcomes of egregious actions by employers who have not been held accountable and a workplace health and safety infrastructure that has been running on empty for decades.

Here in Massachusetts, thousands of workers and their families have been affected by COVID-19. In September, MassCOSH and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO released Dying for Work: Documenting the Pandemic’s Deadly Toll on Massachusetts Workers, which lists at least 59 workers known to have died of COVID-19 after potentially being exposed at work. The report acknowledges that this is likely just the tip of the iceberg and a gross undercount given the state has failed to collect data on occupation of COVID-19 cases, despite a law passed in June requiring the information be collected and shared publicly. However, we do know that ~128,000 Massachusetts working-age residents (20-69) tested positive for COVID-19 from March 10 to September 30, and 1,493 died. While it is hard to confirm how many were workers exposed on the job, the fact that more than 5,700 reports were made to workers’ compensation insurers for workplace exposure in that same period gives some indication of COVID-19’s widespread and deadly impact.

More recent data does little to reassure workers their jobs are safe. In addition to thousands of COVID-19 complaints that have been made directly to local boards of health, as of January 12, the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) has opened 1,422 cases investigating violations of the State’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety regulations. More than 40% of these complaints came from the retail and restaurant/bar industries. We also know that the state’s Contact Tracing Collaborative and several Local Boards of Health have asked DLS to investigate 74 workplace clusters reported since July 12. Further, recently released state data, while not comprehensive, indicate that there are almost 700 active clusters associated with worksites as of January 28.

The National Agenda for Worker Safety and Health includes eight goals:
1. Strengthen and enforce our safety laws and regulations
2. Don’t let employers silence us: Workers must be protected by strong anti-retaliation protections
3. Listen to workers – we need a seat at the table
4. Safe workplaces for all: Equity and inclusion
5. Guarantee fair and just compensation for workers, no special deals for corporations
6. Create worker-centered protocols to track, prevent and protect against COVID-19
7. Confront the Workplace Effects of Climate Change
8. Prevent chemical catastrophes and harmful exposures

In Massachusetts, MassCOSH also seeks state reforms that will better protect workers from COVID-19 and its impact. They include stronger COVID-19 workplace regulations, more funding for DLS for workplace safety enforcement, and faster access to the vaccine for more workers on the frontline, such as teachers. MassCOSH will also be working with the MA AFL-CIO and Representative Ken Gordon to pass “occupational presumption” legislation that ensures that any worker reporting to work outside their home who contracts COVID-19 during the pandemic is presumed to have become ill from workplace exposure and can get the workers’ compensations benefits they deserve.

MassCOSH will continue to advocate for policies that end injustices workers faced on the job before the pandemic stuck, including ending the pervasive practice of wage theft that cheats workers out of hard-earned wages, hurts honest businesses, and deprives the Commonwealth of needed revenue. MassCOSH will also work to pass laws that ensure responsible state contracting that disqualifies companies that have a poor OSHA safety record from receiving taxpayer-funded construction contracts, and that protect workers who file workers compensation claims from employer retaliation.
About MassCOSH
MassCOSH strives to ensure that all workers earn their living and return home alive and well. MassCOSH unites workers, unions and community groups with environmental and health activists, to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions.