AFSCME District Council 20 Executive Director's Statement on the Repeal of COVID 19 Safety Standards

These remarks were delivered on February 16, 2022, before the Health and Safety Codes Committee that enforces the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) regulations and standards

Good morning. My name is Robert Hollingsworth. I’m the Executive Director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 20. AFSCME members in Virginia are proud of our work for the VOSH Covid-19 workplace standard. This provides critical guidance to employers on how to reduce the spread and protect all Virginian workplaces. 

Our members perform vital public services that Virginia residents rely on. They provide in-person behavioral health and family services, run our local libraries, and proactively engage young people through recreation center programs and activities. They also keep us safe by removing snow from our roads and making sure our drinking water is clean by maintaining critical infrastructure. When the pandemic hit, AFSCME frontline and essential workers kept our communities running.  

AFSCME members, and workers throughout Virginia, always deserve a safe and healthy workplace. But early in the pandemic, even some local governments here in Virginia failed to provide adequate PPE even after it became readily available. Many also failed to establish common-sense policies to try and limit spread. For example, city and county employees often rode four or five workers to a vehicle with no room to physically distance. They were routinely exposed to the virus. Many got sick. Some even died.  

But when this Board enacted these standards, that all changed, and I want to commend you for your life saving efforts. By minimizing their exposure to Covid-19 at work, and the threat they may infect their loved ones at home, the VOSH workplace standard has played a critical role in protecting not just the health of workers but the health of their loved ones as well.  

I am speaking at this Safety & Health Committee hearing on behalf of the over 4,000 AFSCME Members who live and work in Virginia in opposition to repealing the VOSH Covid-19 workplace standard. It is too soon, and it is reckless. 

According to the most recent UVA Covid-19 model posted on the Virginia Department of Health’s own website, many areas of the state still have surging cases. 

This is the WRONG time to be less vigilant. With so many local government services still not operating at full capacity, repealing the workplace standard now is asking for trouble.  

Virginia led the country by implementing a health and safety standard protecting workers from Covid-19. Other states followed. As patients repeatedly overwhelmed the state’s hospitals wave after wave, I have no doubt it would have been even worse without the VOSH Covid-19 standard. 

Public employees provide the vital services that our communities depend on and that commands respect. Repealing the Covid-19 standard protecting workers, particularly the critical provision that bars the firing of and discrimination against any worker seeking to protect themselves against the virus, sends the wrong message to workers and employers in Virginia and throughout the country.   

Please retain the VOSH COVID-19 standards.