New York, NY – Labor unions and environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday, October 8, against the federal government over its failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to essential workers. The unions include the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Transport Workers Union (TWU), AFL-CIO, AFT, SEIU, Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, among others. The groups collectively represent more than 15 million workers in frontline industries that have suffered thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses from COVID-19. Environmental groups include the Center for Biological Diversity and the Labor Network for Sustainability.
“The AFL-CIO is joining this lawsuit to force the Trump administration to do what it should have done months ago — protect American workers by dramatically increasing the supply of the PPE they need to work safely during this pandemic,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The failure to do so is immoral and inexcusable, and we demand action now.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf should act immediately to ensure the manufacture and distribution of PPE. The agencies failed to respond to an August petition from the groups that demanded emergency action, violating federal law. The agencies have refused to properly manage PPE production and distribution, leaving states and industry to compete and frontline workers short of supplies.
And it follows the October 6, announcement that negotiations on a coronavirus relief bill would be delayed until after November 3. The bill includes provisions for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety standards to protect essential workers against the deadly disease.
“As the pandemic rages on in North America, more people are riding public transit and ATU members continue to bravely report for work often with little or no protection to provide critical transportation to keep communities moving,” said Amalgamated Transit Union International President John Costa. “The shortage of PPE has had a devastating impact on the ATU, as we have lost 89 brothers and sisters while thousands have been infected with the coronavirus. The ATU calls for the activation of the Defense Production Act to ensure the needed PPE is produced for transit and other essential workers to keep them safe on the job.”
“Our members have put their lives on the line every single day during this pandemic, and yet the TWU has had to fight tooth and nail to get the bare minimum in PPE that we need to feel safe on the job,” said John Samuelson, president of the Transport Workers Union. “This country doesn’t stand a chance at an effective recovery from this pandemic if our elected leaders don’t do everything within their power to protect frontline workers.”