Virginia Becomes First State to Pass Emergency Safety Standard to Protect Workers from COVID-19

Categories: The Insider, Coronavirus

Thanks to the hard work of a coalition of labor unions, civil rights, legal and worker advocates – AFGE included – Virginia became the first state in the nation to pass an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect workers from the coronavirus.   

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board on July 15 voted 9 to 2 to pass the standard, which was drafted by the Department of Labor and industries at the direction of Governor Ralph Northam. It takes effect immediately upon publication, expected to be the week of July 27. The standard applies to all workers normally covered by Virginia OSHA, including public school teachers.   

Our very own AFGE Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodríguez serves on the board along with three other labor representatives.   

“Working women and men of Virginia now have the comprehensive, enforceable health and safety protections they need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a huge victory for workers, and I’m proud to have contributed to the ETS as a member of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board, with AFGE’s full support. We will continue to advocate for a similar federal OSHA ETS to protect all workers across the nation, including federal and D.C. government employees.”   

The AFL-CIO, the Virginia AFL-CIO, and a grassroots worker coalition led this fight from the very beginning and fought to ensure the standard would be strong and not full of loopholes. The poultry industry and business groups pushed back hard throughout the process.   

Here’s how the new standard will help protect workers against COVID-19   

  • The standard requires employers to develop and implement an infectious disease preparedness and response plan specific to their workplace, using clear, science-driven protection measures.  
  • It creates a clear reporting and notification mechanism for the Department of Health and Virginia OSHA to locate and address possible COVID-19 outbreaks.  
  • Workers will be provided with training and prevention measures.  
  • Workers now have clear and enforceable right to be protected from retaliation and discrimination for exercising their right to demand a safe workplace.    

“Virginia had to step in where the Trump administration has failed woefully to protect workers who are risking our lives and our livelihoods during this pandemic,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.   


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