Monday - June 14 at 6 PM Worker Rights and Reopening

Updated:  Monday, June 14 at 6 PM (English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian interpretation)

Last week, the CDC made significant changes to their mask guidance which relies on the honor system to ensure that unvaccinated people wear masks in public. At the same time, Governor Baker announced he will reopen our State with no COVID-19 restrictions (except for a few locations), adopting instead this flawed CDC guidance. MassCOSH believes this move will put workers in danger of occupational exposure to COVID-19. This decision once again exacerbates the already devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lower-income communities, communities of color, and immigrants who make up a disproportionate part of workers in high-risk occupations. 
 
Vaccines are effective and important, but they should be viewed as another layer of protection, rather than a replacement for all existing health and safety protections on the job. By rolling back safety protections while COVID-19 exposure is still a risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Governor Baker have put workers, especially those in already high-risk industries and occupations, in further danger, with no way for directly affected workers to have a say. 
 
No vaccine is 100% effective. Vaccinated people can still be exposed to someone with COVID-19 and infected. And while all vaccines approved in the US provide protection, some are more protective than others. Many people in Massachusetts are not yet vaccinated, meaning that workers – whether they are vaccinated or not - can still be exposed to COVID-19 by others in their workplaces (co-workers, customers, etc.). Newer COVID-19 variants have already been shown to be more resistant to the immunity provided by vaccines, making breakthrough infections more common. 
 
Relying on an honor system is ineffective, as there is no way to know if someone is telling their truth about being vaccinated. Unless workers can be assured that anyone they might come into contact with is vaccinated, employers should continue to require masks & distancing. Employers should not force workers to take off a mask or respirator and should not punish anyone who chooses to use one. 
 
Following the Governor’s decision to replace COVID-19 guidance, the Department of Labor Standards (DLS) will stop enforcing the State’s COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety regulations on May 29th, despite the fact that there has been no public process to rescind the rules. Massachusetts workers, who already had little recourse to address unsafe working conditions, will be even less protected. This leaves public sector workers particularly unprotected, as they are not under OSHA’s jurisdiction and can therefore only call on DLS. 
 
Workers have a right to a safe and healthy workplace. As long as workers are at risk of being exposed to a deadly infectious disease on the job, all employers must maintain an infection control plan, according to OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance. That plan should be made and updated with the involvement of workers. Retaliation against workers who speak up for their right to a safe and healthy workplace is illegal.  
 
Masks will still be required inside school buildings, on public or private transit (meaning on a bus, train, subway, or ferry, in a taxi/rideshare car, and at a train/subway station), in healthcare facilities and congregate care settings. This will be enforced by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 
 
As of now, OSHA has not put forward a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), despite President Biden’s commitment that an ETS be issued by March 15th
 
To that end, MassCOSH demands that:  
 
Employers in Massachusetts continue to follow OSHA guidance to engage workers in a process to assess risks and develop and implement COVID-19 Protection Programs at every worksite in the Commonwealth. This may include requiring masking and physical distancing of customers, workers, etc. to ensure workers are not exposed to the virus on the job. Employers should respect workers’ right to organize, not punish workers for raising workplace health and safety concerns. 
 
The Department of Labor Standards conduct a public process, as required by law, to update the protections according to current science rather than completely dismissing them while COVID-19 is still a risk to our state’s workers. DLS must continue to enforce the protections until the process is completed.  
 
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts work with employers to expand access to the vaccine for all workers including paid time off to get the vaccine and recover from side effects, clinics at the worksite and other strategies. 
 
To save workers’ lives and prevent further community spread of COVID-19 and variants, OSHA immediately approve a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard that covers all industries and workers, something that workers and their advocates have demanded for far too long.