September 24, 2022

Washington Wire: Senate Confirms Labor Secretary; OSHA Moves on COVID Workplace Protections


Senate Confirms Labor Secretary; OSHA Moves on COVID Workplace Protections 

The Senate has confirmed Boston mayor Marty Walsh to be the Secretary of the Department of Labor. It is expected that with Secretary Walsh in place, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) will finally take additional steps towards releasing the delayed Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) to address COVID-19 prevention in the workplace, which were expected to be issued by March 15, 2021.
In the meantime, OSHA did release a new COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP) “targeting specific high-hazard industries or activities” in which there is a “hazard of contracting SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), the cause of COVID-19.” While the NEP, issued on March 12, 2021, focuses its primary target list on other sectors, there a several manufacturing industries included in the NEP secondary target lists, such as:
  • Primary Metal Manufacturing
  • Fabricated Meal Product Manufacturing
  • Industrial Machinery Manufacturing
  • Transportation Equipment Manufacturing
OSHA seeks to achieve the NEP’s goals of reducing or eliminating worker exposure to COVID by a combination of inspection targeting, outreach to employers, and compliance assistance. Targeted inspections will focus on establishments with the listed industries by reviewing 2020 Form 300A injury and illness data. The NEP does not establish new employer requirements but notifies the public that OSHA will place an emphasis on enforcement in this space. There are roughly a dozen NEPs already in place including those covering combustible dust and hazardous machinery.



House Passes PRO Act
On March 9, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, H.R. 842. The labor wishlist 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 desires 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.
The bill passed the House on a 255-206 vote, mainly along party lines, with only one Democrat voting against the bill and five Republicans joining Democrats in voting yes. The PRO Act has now been sent to the Senate where there is there is currently little chance of passage, as it lacks the 60 votes needed under current Senate rules.
One Voice members sent numerous messages to their members of Congress opposing the bill. It is expected that the Senate to try to pass the measure and One Voice will continue to work to inform lawmakers about how this harmful bill would undermine the employer-employee relationship.



U.S. & EPA Issues Cross-State Air Pollution Rule
The EPA has issued a final regulation updating an existing interstate air pollution rule to help Northeast states meet 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), by imposing requirements for states to manage their emissions from power plants that travel into downwind states. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met its March 15 court-mandated deadline to issue the Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update under the Clean Air Act. The rule largely echoes a Trump-era proposed version revising the program. The twelve states subject to the requirements under the rule are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
The Biden administration is also planning in a separate cross-state air pollution rule to help states meet the 2015 ozone ambient air limit. The EPA mentioned in the Revised CSAPR that it is currently working to address “good neighbor” requirements under the 2015 ozone NAAQS for both power plants and other emission sources.



PPP Extension Set to Pass
The Senate is expected to pass an extension to the application period of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP Extension Act of 2021, which passed the House on March 16, 2021, would extend the loan application deadline for two months to May 31 from March 31 as well as allow SBA to continue to process loan applications through June 30, 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) filed a cloture motion to proceed to the consideration of the bill, which overwhelmingly passed by the House by a vote of 415-13. The Senate could consider the bill as soon as this week. One Voice is actively lobbying for this extension.