Unions press feds for more workplace mental health protections


Two major unions have joined forces in a coalition to urge federal regulators to prioritize the protection of workers' mental health, similar to the way they enforce standards for physical health and safety. This call for action comes at a critical time, as post-pandemic burnout becomes increasingly prevalent and there is a growing awareness of the deteriorating state of mental health in the country. The former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under President Obama, David Michaels, has written a letter to the agency, arguing that their authority includes the power to safeguard workers' mental health from workplace hazards.

The National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union, along with other organizations such as Governing for Impact and the Economic Policy Institute, have co-signed the letter. They are urging OSHA to provide guidance and take enforcement actions to protect workers' mental health, while also considering the implementation of enforceable workplace safety and health standards.

Michaels highlights that OSHA's current focus on physical risks neglects the significant psychosocial risks present in the workplace. He emphasizes that employers are legally obliged to provide a work environment free from hazards, and workers have the right to return home in the same condition they arrived. While OSHA has taken some steps to address the rise in anxiety and depression, such as providing checklists for managers and participating in suicide prevention efforts, the coalition believes more comprehensive action is necessary.

The unions calling for enhanced workplace protections largely represent teachers and healthcare workers, professions that have encountered significant challenges related to burnout and workforce shortages in the aftermath of the pandemic. There is a consensus that there has been insufficient mental health support for educators, which is further compounded by the increasingly complex needs of students. The coalition argues that mental health should be recognized as an essential component of overall health.

The coalition also acknowledges that workers in various sectors, particularly those on the frontlines in nursing homes, hospitals, and home care, often face emotionally and psychologically demanding situations at work that can impact their personal lives. Therefore, it is crucial to address these challenges and provide adequate support.

The letter from the unions comes at a time when labor unions are experiencing high public approval and strong belief in the benefits they offer to workers, businesses, and the economy. Additionally, the United Auto Workers union is currently engaging in a historic strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, further emphasizing the momentum behind labor movements.

Overall, this coalition's call for action reflects a critical need to prioritize and protect workers' mental health in the same way as physical health and safety standards are enforced. By addressing this issue, employers can create healthier work environments and support the overall well-being of their workforce.  

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