Fighting For Worker’s Safety During COVID


Infosheet for the Peoples CDC

No matter what type of work you do, COVID has likely made it more hazardous. You need specific information to keep you and your families safe. This guide aims to support workers in all types of workplaces who want to protect themselves and their coworkers, loved ones, and communities from the ongoing harms of COVID.1

Key to COVID Safety: Layers of Protections

When workplaces implement layers of COVID protections, it is less likely that workers will become sick. The People’s CDC (PCDC) provides information on layers of protection for the general public which can be adapted for workplaces.

Since COVID is primarily transmitted via the air, the goal of COVID protections is to minimize the amount of virus in the air through a variety of measures, including masks, ventilation, distancing, and vaccinations.

Respirators and Masks

Respirators and masks protect workers by decreasing how much virus an infected person exhales into shared air and limiting how much virus a non-infected person inhales. Respirators are protective facial coverings that are capable of forming an airtight seal when properly fitted and worn correctly. Masks are facial coverings that do not provide an airtight seal, and offer a range of levels of protection depending on their quality and fit.

In any workplace where workers are around others, including coworkers or customers, they may be exposed to COVID-19 and protection is needed. PCDC’s info sheet Masking Up provides information on masks (KN95, KF94, surgical, and cloth masks) and one respirator, the N95.

Some workers have additional respiratory protections through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard. This Standard requires fit-testing, medical testing of workers for the ability to wear a respirator, worker training on putting on/taking off respirators, and a program for cleaning and storage of respirators, among other provisions. OSHA applies only in the private sector, except in the twenty-seven states with state OSHA plans covering public sector workers. For more comments on using OSHA, see the section on OSHA under State-level and Federal advocacy for workers below.


PCDC has created two documents that provide what workers need to know about ventilation and how they can win their demands. One document applies to schools and the other to general non-industrial workplaces. Find both documents linked below:

Long COVID and Disabilities

Long COVID and associated conditions are complex, potentially severe conditions that affect some people after acute COVID. As of summer 2022, between 10 and 33 million working-age adults in the US may have Long COVID2. Long COVID and associated conditions include a range of serious symptoms such as brain fog (cognitive dysfunction), extreme fatigue, cardiovascular issues, migraine, and more.

If you, a co-worker, or a fellow union member are unable to work as you did previously as a result of Long COVID and associated conditions, you are not alone. On any given day, two to four million people are away from work due to Long COVID3. Fifty-six percent of people with Long COVID who worked full-time before their infection report needing to reduce their hours or no longer being able to work.4

Disability accommodations can make work accessible for some people with Long COVID. All workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but many workers do not receive needed accommodations. Co-workers, unions, and others in workplaces can provide critical support for people experiencing Long COVID as they apply for and enforce accommodations. Consult the following resources for information:

Making and winning demands

Clarity on what protections are needed is a crucial first step. But you need a strategy to win your demands: For workplace organizing ,the National Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) can help you frame a successful campaign for Covid-19 workplace safety (and provides other useful Covid-related resources). One useful NCOSH factsheet not listed in that resource is Omicron BA-5 and other variants of COVID-19: New Dangers, New Solutions (

Labor Notes has a useful resource entitled How to Bargain for a Healthy and Safe Return to the Workplace

Local Resources for Schools and COVID support:

  • Do your local public schools have the funds they need to test, treat, and isolate students, staff, and teachers, and make sure classrooms are well ventilated? PCDC has created COVID school safety resources: Urgency of Equity Toolkit.
  • Does your city or other locality provide support for people who can’t work due to COVID or COVID-related illness? Is testing widely and cheaply available, or available for free? You can find your representatives here . You can also participate in advocacy efforts to encourage mask mandates.

State-level and Federal advocacy for workers

Many states or other jurisdictions have their own agencies that at least to some extent are set up to protect worker health. Local unions, worker centers, or labor education programs should be able to help you navigate them.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the arm of the federal government which regulates the health and safety of workplaces. Underfunded for years, it lacks money or staff either to develop or adequately enforce many worker protection regulations, often capitulates to pressure from other agencies, including the CDC, and may sometimes be too willing to accept employers’ excuses for inaction. OSHA is currently developing a permanent COVID-related standard for healthcare workers only.

However, workers can still succeed in winning improvements through strategic use of OSHA, in particular concerning violations of the Respiratory Protection (1910.134) and the Personal Protective Equipment (1910.132) standards. It is possible for an individual to file a complaint (anonymously to avoid retribution), but getting workplace results through OSHA complaints takes a great deal of work and follow-up. If you have a union, your union can likely best work with you to approach OSHA strategically. You can also be strategic with the help of worker advocates, such as worker centers. Note that Federal OSHA applies only to the private sector, except in twenty-seven states with approved state OSHA plans that extend OSHA coverage to public sector workers. Find all state plans here:

An excellent PowerPoint, created by Ellie Barbarash when she worked for a nurses’ union in New Jersey, lays out how to make strategic use of filing OSHA complaints. Please note that the 2nd part of the PPT refers to PEOSH, which is the Public Employee Occupational Safety and Health program, New Jersey’s state OSHA plan. Everything explained under PEOSH is applicable to federal OSHA as well. Find the slides here.

Ways you can act

You should be prepared to organize for your interests. This might involve agitating within your union, forming a union, engaging in walkouts or strikes, educating yourself and others, or participating in actions to support those who act in solidarity with you (e.g. healthcare workers, food workers, etc.).

Many workers are unable or are not sure if they are able to unionize, including public employees, domestic workers, contractors, or those employed by parents, spouses, or other relatives. Even if you cannot form an official union, or if your union is ineffective or hostile, there are resources to help you organize and advocate for your interests such as The Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee ( and the National Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (

Make sure you and your co-workers retain the initiative and power. If you are in a union, some union officials might not support you in taking direct action to protect your health. There are many organizations that can help you figure out how to take action successfully, and provide links to worker and community groups to support you when you run into conflict with your employer, government bodies, or your union. Labor Notes ( is one of the most useful resources in this regard.

There may also be local groups of clergy or organizations that represent nearby communities that will support you in your efforts. A relatively recent example has been the support Black, Latino/a, and other organizations have given Chicago teacher strikes in recent years.

Defending your rights

You or others may justifiably worry about retaliation by your employer– which, although technically illegal, nevertheless often takes place. You should be prepared to oppose reactionary, right-wing forces who are anti-worker. Employers might themselves, or using hired contractors, attack workers, especially targeted groups such as BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ people. Legal organizations such as

can help defend your rights as you organize and demonstrate, and your local unions, or national organizations such as those mentioned above, can also assist.

We hope this sheet is useful! We welcome your suggestions and will welcome you if you want to join us in People’s CDC. If you have questions that we may be able to answer, please contact us at

  1. Based in part on
  2. Burns, A. (2022). “What Are the Implications of Long COVID for Employment and Health Care Coverage?” Kaiser Family Foundation.
  3. Bach, K. (2022). “New data shows long Covid is keeping as many as 4 million people out of work.” Brookings.
  4. Burns, A. (2022). “What Are the Implications of Long COVID for Employment and Health Care Coverage?” Kaiser Family Foundation.
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