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Labor Chief Defends OSHA’s Virus Actions in Response to AFL-CIO

April 30, 2020, 8:12 PM

Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia defended OSHA’s response to the coronavirus crisis in a sharply worded letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Scalia’s letter Thursday was in response to a wave of criticism of OSHA and the Labor Department from union and worker activists, often connected to Worker Memorial Day actions this week and an April 28 letter Trumka sent Scalia.

Trumka told Scalia that “OSHA’s Covid-19 enforcement response plan is totally deficient, abandoning workers in meatpacking, poultry, grocery, transportation and other critical industries.”

Scalia rejected Trumka’s “counterproductive assertion that the Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been ‘missing in action’ during the pandemic.”

“I appreciate that you may want different actions from OSHA, but to obscure the guidance OSHA has given, and to suggest OSHA is indifferent to worker protection and enforcement, is to mislead employers about their duties and workers about their rights,” Scalia wrote.

The Labor secretary again turned down requests for the department and OSHA to draft a temporary emergency rule protecting workers from airborne diseases such as Covid-19.

The industry-specific guidance documents issued by OSHA are more effective than a general regulation covering several types of workplaces, the secretary said.

The secretary concluded, “I respect all that the AFL-CIO and other unions have done through the years to protect workers. I ask that you show due respect for the steps the dedicated men and women at OSHA are taking now.”

AFL-CIO Communications Director Tim Schlittner responded, “Secretary Scalia just doesn’t get it or worse, doesn’t want to.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at; John Lauinger at