- A coalition of major labor unions petitioned an appeals court on Wednesday to force the Biden administration to make permanent its emergency temporary standard for healthcare workers during the pandemic.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration implemented the emergency temporary standard in June, mandating hospitals and other healthcare facilities follow requirements around ventilation, physical barriers and other protections intended to reduce virus transmission. The agency announced it would withdraw the rule in December, without replacing it with a permanent standard.
- Nursing unions like National Nurses United, the New York State Nurses Association and Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals, along with labor unions representing teachers and other workers, petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to compel OSHA to quickly codify a permanent standard on occupational exposure.
Labor unions representing front line workers in particular have fought hard for greater workplace protections throughout the pandemic amid shifting guidance from government agencies and employers.
The emergency temporary standard issued in June was a major win for them, making previous pandemic guidance like masking and social distancing mandatory for healthcare providers at facilities where suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients are treated.
Healthcare employers though pushed back, noting the rule was long and complex, carrying a variety of exemptions for vaccinated employees, and had a quick compliance date and short comment period.
They will no longer have to follow the ETS as OSHA effectively dissolved it. But labor unions are again fighting for those protections to be made permanent.
"The nation's nurses remember well how, before the June 2021 OSHA standard, health care employers frequently denied their employees protections and policies such as personal protective equipment, testing, isolation, and more," the country’s largest nursing union, National Nurses United, said in a release on the suit.
NNU noted on Dec. 28, the day after OSHA announced plans to rescind the ETS, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases broke all previous records when it reached 267,000 cases.
"The grave danger that led to issuance of the emergency temporary standard not only remains, but has dramatically increased with the omicron variant and current surge in infections and hospitalizations," the union said in the release.
For its part, OSHA said when it rescinded the temporary guidance that healthcare workers were still protected by other standards, and urged all healthcare employers to continue abiding by the emergency temporary standard's requirements.