Oregon Steelworker members vital in new COVID rule proposal

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its permanent Covid-19 proposed rule earlier this month for a 90-day public comment period. The rule would maintain current temporary protections for workers against the coronavirus and include mandates that address vaccinations in the workplace.

USW members were vital in this rulemaking process, including Aaron Watts of Local 6163. Watts serves as his local grievance chair while working at ATI Specialty Alloy and Components, and also dedicates his time to legislative activism because he knows the power of workers having a seat at the table.

“We are fortunate to have fantastic resources with our USW Health, Safety and Environment Department, as well as amazing leaders who represent all sectors of our membership within the AFL-CIO,” said Watts. “Being able to have that voice throughout this process was a benefit to all workers.”

One challenge Watts and his fellow activists faced during this process has been the overlap with different agencies who also have rules implemented, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Oregon Health Authority,” Watts said. “Working to get clarification to these rules was more difficult than expected.  OR-OSHA used the guidelines as their template, and it was challenging to get much clarification outside those other guidelines.”

The new rule would, among other things, require employers to provide written notification to employees of their rights to return to work when employees must quarantine, and require employers to cooperate with public health authorities that ask to arrange for vaccinations in the workplace.

Watts is hopeful that the permanent rule will lead to better safety protections for all workers.

“Focusing on establishing a permanent rule will allow a better opportunity to prevent or minimize similar outbreaks in the future,” he said. “Being able to address adequate ventilation, appropriate respiratory protection and personal protective equipment, reducing and eliminating potential exposures and crowded living quarters in some cases, and certainly improved hygiene will all go a long way to help all of us maintain healthier workplaces moving forward.”

Click here to read a comparison between the temporary rule and the proposed permanent rule.

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