DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A labor union representing state workers has filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, arguing that a lack of a mask mandate at the Iowa Capitol threatens the safety of everyone who enters the building.
Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO President Charles Wishman said in a letter sent to Republican leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday that their refusal to enact or enforce a mandatory mask policy shows a lack of concern about the coronavirus pandemic that “is a blatant avoidance of the seriousness of this pandemic and has accelerated the spreading of it.”
The union and representatives from six other Iowa labor unions filed a complaint with Iowa OSHA claiming the legislative leaders have a duty to provide a workplace that is free from hazards that could cause death or physical harm.
Iowa operates a federally approved occupational safety program that follows federal OSHA standards so such workplace complaints must begin with the state agency, which was criticized early in the pandemic for slow response to complaints from workers in meatpacking plants.
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver have not required masks to be worn and some GOP members do not wear them. Democrats are largely staying out of the building for caucus meetings and wear face coverings when in the building for votes.
The unions also complained that the Iowa House is not allowing public input via electronic remote means, which they said strips immune-compromised Iowans and those reluctant to expose themselves to the virus from public input.
The Senate allows testimony in committee meetings via an online system.
Whitver and Grassley said they've not had a chance to read the union complaint or letter.
Grassley said he believes House members and others are properly distancing or wearing a mask.
“I think we have we’re taking the precautions that we need to take,” he said.
He said a mask mandate isn’t enforceable because the only recourse for him might be to have the Iowa State Patrol remove a lawmaker or member of the public if they refused “and I’m not to the point where I feel comfortable going there.”
The Iowa House notified lawmakers on Jan. 15 of a positive coronavirus case.
Gov. Kim Reynolds requires masks for people in public spaces where social distancing isn't possible, but her mandate doesn't apply to the Capitol, which is under the authority of the legislative branch.