COVID-19: A Guide for USW Local Unions Still at Work

COVID-19: A Guide for USW Local Unions Still at Work

Click here to download this as a printable PDF.

(This factsheet is not for health care locals.) 

Many state and local authorities have asked or ordered non-essential businesses and institutions to close. Many have asked or ordered people to stay home except for critical errands, like getting food or medicine. As the pandemic continues, we can expect many more areas to be included. These measures are essential to slowing and eventually stopping the spread of the virus.

But what if your facility or job is considered essential? What if your employer is ignoring the request or order? This factsheet outlines steps a local union can take to keep its members as safe as possible.

First, confirm that your workplace is an essential business.

Workplaces manufacturing critical items, like cleaning chemicals, drugs, medical supplies, and the materials or parts that go into them, clearly are essential. So are facilities that supply food or energy. Many public service jobs are essential. And even if a facility temporarily closes, some workers may have to stay on the job for essential maintenance and security. Most closure orders come from state governors; a few, from cities and towns. They normally list the kind of workplaces allowed to stay open.

Understandably, some of our members may resist workplace closings. But if we don’t stop the virus now, we will have to take far more drastic measures in a few weeks. The USW is working hard through legislation and negotiation to protect our members’ economic well-being, as well as their health. 

For those who stay at work, the local union should attempt to negotiate a reasonable safety policy.

By now everyone has heard the messages about symptom checking, hand washing, social distancing and protecting the most vulnerable. Those measures are important on and off the job.

Below are a few simple things that will help keep people as safe as possible.

Unfortunately, OSHA has no standards that apply (except for the correct use of respirators), and the agency has refused to use its general duty clause for coronavirus. These safeguards will have to be negotiated. 


For more information:

Visit the USW Coronavirus Resource Page: USW.ORG/COVID19

Contact the USW Health, Safety and Environment Department at

Visit the AFL-CIO’s Website


Read the latest guidance from CDC:

Read the guidance from OSHA: