Unions demand Trump invoke Defense Production Act for PPE
SEIU, one of the unions demanding invocation of the Defense Production Act, said health care workers having to wear trash bags and doggy diapers to protect themselves from the coronavirus is a national disgrace. | Video screenshot

WASHINGTON —Eight unions, the AFL-CIO, the Labor Network for Sustainability and another green group formally demanded the GOP Trump regime invoke the Defense Production Act to force factories to switch to making personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers to wear against the coronavirus.

Trump’s government has refused to do so so far, and the result has been needless illnesses and deaths among front-line workers during the pandemic, their legal petition to Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says.

“The Trump administration is AWOL on safety and refuses to help the front-line workers who are still in desperate need of more PPE,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in the joint release. “It is unconscionable, it is costing lives and in this petition America’s essential workers are demanding answers, and most of all, action.”

Communications Workers President Chris Shelton, a former telephone lineman was even blunter. He directly blamed GOP President Donald Trump.

“We need the president of the United States to stop abdicating his responsibility to protect workers who are putting their lives on the line to do their jobs,” he said. “Leaving workers to fend for themselves while there are grave shortages of adequate PPE during a pandemic is unacceptable and un-American.”

“CWA members and all workers need Donald Trump to do something useful for once and order the cronies he’s put in charge of the federal government to use every tactic within their power to get PPE produced and distributed.”

“It’s terrifying to risk your life every day just by going to work” in fear of catching the virus because workers lack N95 protective masks, ventilators, gloves, sanitizers and other PPE, Rick Lewis, RN, president of the Ohio State University local of National Nurses United, said in the August 11 statement.

“I’m not going to give up on protecting my patients, even though it’s clear the federal government has basically given up on protecting us. More than 100 of my coworkers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and many of those positive tests were due to occupational exposure because of lack of PPE. This is inexcusable.”

“We need to protect the protectors,” Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said.

NNU is one of the unions formally demanding more PPE. It’s also lobbying lawmakers to force the administration to provide it and took the lead early in trying to  force Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency rule ordering companies to draft and implement anti-coronavirus protection plans.

NNU and the AFL-CIO even took Trump’s OSHA to federal court weeks ago to achieve that goal, but they lost the lawsuit.

NNU reports the coronavirus has killed at least 175 RNs alone, unionists and non-unionists. A prior study in Washington state, site of the first coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., found that though health care workers were 13% of the state’s workforce, they were 37% of the workers who got sick.

As of 11 a.m. on August 12, a total of 5.15 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus and 164,990 have died since the pandemic was declared March 13, according to the most-authoritative source, Johns Hopkins University.

Besides the AFL-CIO and NNU, the Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, both big transit workers’ unions, the Communications Workers and the National Domestic Workers Alliance joined the demand. The Center for Biological Diversity was the other green group in it.

“At a time when the skills of registered nurses, other health care workers, and essential workers are most needed, it is unconscionable that they are being treated as if their lives are worth less than others with this utter disregard for their safety,” National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo said in the statement.

“Nurses are willing to be at the bedside caring for COVID-19 patients. Their employers and their government should be willing to protect them with the PPE they need to do their jobs safely.”

“Essential workers—mostly Black and brown workers—have been forced to wear trash bags and doggie diapers as PPE, putting their lives on the line every day to keep communities running,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. “Workers aren’t being honored or protected, they’re being sacrificed.”

“All of us want the same things: Health, safety, security, and a better future for our children. That’s why working people demand the Trump administration take immediate, emergency action to provide sufficient PPE and to protect all workers.”

There was no immediate response from either Azar or Wolf. Azar is visiting Taiwan, supposedly to see why and how that nation has curbed the pandemic’s impact. Wolf spends his time deploying Trump’s troops to Democratic-run cities, notably Portland, Ore., inciting protests.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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