A group of unions representing nurses on Wednesday petitioned a federal court to force the Biden administration to adopt a COVID-19 safety standard for healthcare workers, escalating a rare public fight between the White House and labor allies.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration implemented an emergency safety standard last June to protect nurses and other front-line healthcare workers during the pandemic. But the Biden administration Announced Last week he was removing key parts of that temporary rule while continuing his work developing a permanent one.

The decision to remove existing standards without implementing new ones angered labor groups and workplace safety advocates amid an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant. Unions that took the Biden administration to court On Wednesday, it said OSHA’s failure to implement a permanent safety standard amounts to “an extremely dangerous breach of its duties.”

“OSHA is in charge of ensuring that employers create and maintain safe workplaces, and this delay in issuing a permanent standard endangers the lives of nurses and other healthcare workers, patients, and our communities,” said Bonnie Castillo, president of National Nurses United, one of the unions involved in the effort.

The legal effort is backed by other major unions that supported Biden’s presidential campaign, including the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as the AFL-CIO labor federation.

“OSHA has decided to create a big vacuum in the protection of workers required by Congress.”

– Labor groups in your judicial file

Liz Shuler, president of the federation, said the groups “had no choice but to go to court to ensure that our healthcare workers are protected.”

OSHA’s emergency standard required hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities to develop and implement measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. He also ordered that they provide workers with enough protective gear like N95 respirators, maintain social distancing protocols, and screen patients before entering the workplace. Employers were required to follow the rules under threat of a fine.

US President Joe Biden speaks with members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team about the latest developments related to the omicron variant on January 4.

MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

On December 27, OSHA said it would withdraw all parts of the rule that are not related to the employer’s obligation to keep safety records. The agency said that under its interpretation of the law, OSHA only had six months to maintain the emergency standard while preparing a permanent one. And six months was not long enough to get permanent regulation through the rulemaking process.

But Jordan Barab, a former OSHA deputy undersecretary during the Obama years, argued on his blog Confined space that the law is not so clear, and six months was equivalent to “an impossible period” to develop a permanent norm. He said the administration should have kept the temporary rules in place for now, even if it sparked a legal challenge.

“This decision to pull the rug out from under the nation’s millions of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time,” he wrote.

When OSHA issued the emergency rule in June, the agency projected that it would cover 18 million workers, preventing 295,284 infections and 776 deaths among healthcare workers over a six-month period. Labor groups that went to court Wednesday noted that COVID-19 still poses a serious danger and argued that OSHA is required to have an established standard because of its previous findings.

“Instead, OSHA has decided to create a large vacuum in the worker protection required by Congress,” they wrote in their presentation.

Even though it was removing most of the emergency standard, OSHA said that “vigorously enforce”Safety rules in health establishments through what is known as the“ general duty ”clause, which establishes that employers have a general obligation to keep workers safe from harm. But it can be much more difficult for OSHA to issue citations and fines that are enforced using the general duty clause rather than more specific rules.

The fight over the emergency standard for health care comes at a time when the Biden administration hopes to salvage its vaccination rules amid legal battles.

The White House issued a rule through OSHA that would require large employers across the country to implement programs in which workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. Issued another standard through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that would require vaccinating workers at health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Both rules have been challenged in court, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear appeals from the cases on Friday.


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