December 7, 2023

Washington Wire: OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Standard Expected Soon


OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Standard Expected Soon

The Occupational safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has sent a draft emergency temporary standard (ETS) to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review in one of the final steps before OSHA can officially publish the ETS. The ETS, sent to OIRA on April 26, was expected to be released by March 15 following an executive order signed by President Biden but was then delayed by the Administration. 
On Wednesday, April 28, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and stated that OSHA has no target date for issuing the emergency standard. However, OIRA reviews typically last around two weeks. 
Earlier release of the ETS was put on hold by Secretary Walsh after determining that the standard should be updated to reflect the “latest scientific data and state of the disease.” Walsh “ordered a rapid update based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants,” according to the Labor Department. 
The standard, aimed at preventing COVID-19 in the workplace, is expected to address such issues as requiring employers to implement infection control and prevention plans, workplace testing programs, employee vaccinations, and sick leave policies. The new binding standards under the ETS will take effect immediately, potentially requiring employers to adopt new government standards. Sources in Washington expect do expect industry groups to file a lawsuit against the ETS but employers must comply unless a court rules otherwise.



USTR Yet to Begin China Tariff Review
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has not started their agency-level review of U.S. trade policy toward China. When President Biden entered office, he said that the administration would not immediately roll back the Section 301 tariffs on China and committed to a full review of the tariffs. 
During the hearing of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Ambassador Tai said that while USTR is in the process of conducting a review of the Phase 1 trade agreement the U.S. signed with China in early 2020, they will be conducting a top-to-bottom review of the trade policy with China by examining the Section 301 tariffs as well as a potential reinstatement of tariff exclusions and a product-exclusion process for goods from China hit by Section 301 tariffs.
The reinstatement of an exclusion process has long been sought by businesses and lawmakers. On April 21, 2021, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), along with 38 other members of the Senate sent a bipartisan letter to Ambassador Tai asking that USTR restart the exclusion process. In the letter the Senators argued that some inputs remain unavailable outside of China and the tariff exclusion process was used to accommodate the reality of global supply chains. The process should be “transparent, consistently applied [and] based on facts,” the lawmakers wrote. 



PRO Act Gains Support in Senate; White House Creates Task Force on Worker Organizing
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has said that he would cosponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (S. 420/H.R. 842) a step forward for the union-backed legislation. While the bill still does not have the 60 votes needed for passage, the support of the centrist Democrat is significant. Now only three Senate Democrats remain who have not expressed support or opposition to the measure. Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Mark Warner (D-VA) are the remaining Senate Democrats to yet co-sponsor the bill. 
Should the remaining three Senators sign on as cosponsors, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to bring the PRO Act to the floor. While Manchin has expressed his desire to work with “colleagues on both sides of the aisle” to advance the bill through a bipartisan legislative process, even if the bill goes to the floor, it is unlikely that the bill could gain the ten Republican senators needed for passage. 
To try to move the bill closer to a floor vote, unions are putting pressure on Democrats to support the measure. In a call with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, labor groups indicated that they would not support any candidate in upcoming elections that do not support the PRO Act. 
The House passed the labor wishlist bill on March 9, 2021 on a 225-206 vote, mainly along party lines, with only one Democrat voting against the bill and five Republicans joining Democrats in voting yes. The bill contains numerous provisions aimed at increasing union membership such as abolishing Right-to-Work laws, enacted in 28 states, and compelling workers to pay union dues regardless of their desire to join a union. It also eliminates the right to a secret ballot in union elections and institutes a “card check” system which would force workers to vote in front of union organizers. Finally, the bill requires employers to provide personal information of their employees to union organizers, including home addresses and phone numbers, a substantial infringement of workers’ rights to privacy. One Voice members sent numerous messages to their members of Congress opposing passage in the House and will continue to work to inform lawmakers about how this harmful bill would undermine the employer-employee relationship. 
In another effort to support worker organizing and collective bargaining in the public and private sector, President Biden issued an executive Order on April 27, 2021, to create a White House Task Force on “Worker organizing and Empowerment.” The task force will be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Labor and will include more than 20 federal agency heads and cabinet members to develop a “whole-of-government” approach to empower workers to organize. The task force is charged with making recommendations on how existing policies can be used to promote worker organizing and collective bargaining in the federal government and what new policies, regulations and laws are needed to facilitate worker organizing across the country, especially in underserved and marginalized communities.



EPA Takes First Step to Cut Greenhouse Gases
On Monday, May 3, 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations to decrease the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. The new rule would cut HFC production, import, and use by 85% over the next 15 years beginning in 2022. This is the first regulatory step the Biden administration has taken to cut greenhouse gases since President Biden announced a 50-52% reduction by 2030 by 2005 levels. 
The EPA has also announced that it is reconsidering the Trump administration’s revocation of California’s waiver to enforce its greenhouse gas standards. The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule’s “One National Program Rule,” issued by the Trump Administration in September 2019, withdrew the waiver provided to California to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and to implement a zero-emission vehicle program under the Clean Air Act and gave the federal government the sole authority to set emission standards. The EPA is seeking public comment, the first step in rescinding the action by the former administration. The agency will also be taking a separate action to entire SAFE Vehicles Rule that weakened national vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards, with the goal of proposing new regulations in July.