National Employment Law Project Worker Health and Safety Program Director Debbie Berkowitz discussed the lack of enforcement by OSHA, poor COVID-19 data collection and more on the Sept. 15 episode of America’s Work Force Union Podcast.
OSHA then and now
As a former employee of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Berkowitz said the H1N1 Influenza pandemic was handled much better. She said OSHA protected workers through enforcement of guidelines, managing to minimize the effect of H1N1.
Although she now works with NELP, Berkowitz said she has continued studying the data collected by OSHA and the Department of Labor (DOL).
What she found was grim. After at least 1,000 workplace complaints, only 50 had been acted on. She attributed this to weak workplace hazard laws that have gone unaddressed by OSHA under the Trump administration.
Subpar COVID-19 data collection
Berkowitz then said data collection could also be greatly improved. She said the data being collected about each COVID-19 case is not defined enough and does not allow for the tracking of cases by industry.
She zeroed in on the meat and poultry industry as just one example of data not being collected or reported to show COVID-19 trends by industry.
The union difference
To follow up on this, she added that the large union workforce in Europe has made it easier for European nations to track outbreaks and take steps to eradicate them at the root.
Berkowitz then transitioned into talking about how states have picked up the slack of the federal government and have begun creating their own ways to protect workers. She said states like Virginia who have created emergency temporary standards are leading the way. Other states have moved in the right direction through executive orders.
Reporting workplace violations
At the end of the segment, Berkowitz advised workers to file reports with OSHA if there are COVID-19 hazards present. She added that workers should also contact local officials, your local health department and your governor.