WASHINGTON -- The president of the AFL-CIO labor federation sent letters to the White House and Congress on Tuesday demanding that national workplace safety standards be put in place for workers who could be exposed to Ebola.
In his letters, Richard Trumka called for "enforceable" guidelines to help protect health care workers who could come into contact with infected patients. He recommended that those standards be developed jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Trumka asked that President Barack Obama "take immediate executive action" to have the standards put in place.
"Existing protocols, standards and guidelines, and adherence to them, are deficient," Trumka wrote to Obama. "The failures in the response have put dozens of additional health care workers at risk, and potentially exposed many other workers and members of the public. .... Immediate action is needed."
On Tuesday, the CDC issued a new set of guidelines for hospitals dealing with Ebola patients, though they aren't the sort of enforceable regulations that Trumka is calling for.
The AFL-CIO adds a powerful voice to the individual unions, such as National Nurses United and the American Federation of Teachers, that have already said that hospitals are poorly equipped to handle Ebola. Two Dallas nurses recently contracted the virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who earlier this month became the first person to die of Ebola in the United States.
Trumka said in his letter to Obama that the recent events in Texas "have tested our health care institutions and systems and found them unprepared and unable to provide proper patient care or adequate protections to workers and the public."
In separate letters addressed to House and Senate leaders from both parties, Trumka called on Congress to provide whatever funding or legislation is needed "to ensure that workers and the public are protected."
Trumka said that the standards for direct-care workers caring for Ebola patients should match those used by the Nebraska Medical Center, one of the few facilities in the U.S. that is specially equipped to handle the disease. He also called for a measure prohibiting retaliation against workers who publicly raise concerns about their facilities' preparedness, and another compensating workers who lose their jobs due to Ebola exposure.