In Iowa, eight workers filed federal complaints against the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) claiming that the agency practiced gross negligence that put workers at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. The workers represent employees in various industries, including health care, meatpacking, nursing homes, transportation, and others.
An Alleged Failure to Protect Workers
With the help of civil rights groups, the workers filing the complaint against Iowa OSHA want to force the agency to take steps to protect workers from potentially deadly working conditions. These workers and groups filed a Complaint About State Program Administration (CASPA) in the hope that it would encourage federal OSHA to investigate the alleged negligent practices of its Iowa branch. The complaint, filed in November 2020, specifically claims that several Iowa workplaces failed to put proper protections in place for workers and that Iowa OSHA failed to investigate complaints regarding those workplaces. Iowa OSHA has previously come under fire for failing to investigate potentially life-threatening conditions that could result in construction accidents and other incidents. The groups filing the CASPA complaint include the American Friends Service Committee Iowa, the ACLU of IOWA, the Iowa AFL-CIO, Forward Latino, and others. In addition to groups in Iowa, the Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting (IIIFFC) are also involved.
Violating Rules Regarding On-Site Inspections
Iowa OSHA has specific rules in place for conducting on-site inspections. The agency is required to conduct an investigation if:
A formal complaint that a worker has signed contains allegations of dangerous working conditions that may lead to serious physical harm
A formal or informal complaint submitted by a nonworker or unsigned by a worker claims that working conditions pose an imminent danger
Despite setting these rules, the agency has failed to provide a satisfactory response to previous complaints about dangerous workplaces. In October 2020, workers had filed a total of 148 complaints around COVID-19, 36 of which were formal complaints. A mere five of these complaints led Iowa OSHA to conduct an on-site investigation, while the others were simply closed and dismissed. While Iowa OSHA wound up inspecting seven other meatpacking plants, the agency only took this course of action when the media or state lawmakers encouraged it. With the issuing of this complaint, workers in Iowa hope to make sure that OSHA does its job in keeping workers consistently safe, whether from COVID-19 or other potential dangers.