New legislation would help protect American workers from COVID-19 infections on the job


170622-N-N2201-140 NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (June 22, 2017) A crane moves the lower stern into place on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. John F. Kennedy is the second Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier which is now 50 percent structurally complete. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WAVY) — Congress is working on legislation that would protect employees from coronavirus on the job.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, of Virginia, and several other Democratic U.S. senators have voiced their support for the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois). The bill is also co-sponsored by several other Democratic senators, including Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Cory Booker (New Jersey), as well as Independent Bernie Sanders (Vermont).

U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, of Virginia, is the chief sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives for a companion bill. Scott works as the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. The house bill is supposed by 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

If passed, the legislation would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring workplaces to implement plans to protect their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.

The legislation is being introduced after Congress heard reports of workers becoming infected with COVID-19 on the job. This includes about 16,000 American health care workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RELATED: Interactive Map | COVID-19 Testing Vs. Confirmed Cases by State

Although the CDC has issued guidance to protect workers from COVID-19, it is not legally binding. OSHA also doesn’t currently have an enforceable standard in place to protect workers from airborne infectious diseases, like coronavirus, a press release states.

Members of he U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor have repeatedly asked for an enforcable standard to be put into place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.; however, no such standard exists.

“Over the past few months, we have seen the tragic consequences of the Department of Labor’s failure to take urgent action to protect frontline health care workers and other essential employees. Without an enforceable workplace safety standard to protect workers against COVID-19 infection, nurses, doctors, first responders, grocery store workers, food processors, delivery workers, and many others will continue to suffer alarming rates of infection that have already led to thousands of preventable illnesses and deaths,” Scott wrote in a press release. “The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act directs OSHA to issue a standard that would clearly define employers’ responsibility and establish accountability to maintain a safe workplace for employees.”

The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act would expand on a previous legislative proposal — the COVID-19 Workers First Protection Act. If passed, the new legislation would cover employees at health care facilities, warehouses, grocery stores, and food processing plants, where workers continue to do their jobs during the pandemic, according to a press release.

In Hampton Roads, this legislation could also protect shipbuilders who continue to work during the pandemic.

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