The AFL-CIO joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers on Wednesday in suing the Labor Department to force adoption of a rule requiring employers to pay for personal safety equipment for workers.

The OSHA rule, proposed in 1999 but never adopted in final form, would require employers to pay for protective clothing and other equipment used by workers to protect them from job hazards.

The lawsuit claims that the Bush administration's failure to act on the OSHA proposal is endangering workers. The labor groups say that workers in some of the country's industries are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear.

"The Department of Labor held hearings, took comments and then put it on the back burner," said Peg Seminario, safety and health director for the AFL-CIO. "There's a clear-cut requirement that employers pay for it. But some employers are not paying, especially in industries with low-wage workers or unrepresented workers."

David James, a spokesman for the Labor Department, said, "The case has not fully been reviewed by the department and it deals with complicated issues that will affect different employers and employees in a variety of ways."

James said the department is reviewing public comments about the proposal before offering a final rule.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.