Labor Department vows to protect workers from Covid after Supreme Court blocks business vaccine mandate

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  • The Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s vaccine and testing rules for businesses, but also said the federal government could implement COVID-related safety measures in high-risk workplaces.
  • The unions have called on the labor department to implement better ventilation, physical distancing and masking in workplaces.
  • Some states and cities have their own specific rules that are not affected by court decisions.

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After the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing rules for private businesses, the Labor Department has vowed to use its authority to protect workers from Covid.

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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement following the High Court ruling that the Occupational and Safety Administration is evaluating its options for implementing safety standards against COVID in the workplace.

“Regardless of the end result of these actions, OSHA will do everything in its current authority to hold businesses accountable for the safety of employees,” Walsh said Thursday.

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OSHA still has general authority that requires employers to maintain a safe workplace and can fine businesses if they fail to do so. The agency has investigated thousands of COVID complaints with millions of dollars in proposed fines since the pandemic began.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority, in its 6-3 decision, called the federal mandate a “blunt tool” that “makes no distinction based on industry or risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

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However, the High Court said that OSHA has the authority to regulate specific workplaces where workers face extreme danger from Covid.

“Where the virus poses a particular threat because of the particular characteristics of an employee’s job or workplace, targeted regulations are expressly permissible,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.

The court said that there is no doubt that OSHA can implement safeguards to protect workers from COVID, especially in cramped or overcrowded environments.

In other words, OSHA could create a new regulation that targets high-risk industries, such as meatpacking, with safeguards that include controversial vaccine rules, according to Jordan Barb, OSHA’s deputy assistant secretary during the Obama administration. Not there.

“There are a number of criteria that OSHA can use to make it more risk-based that the Supreme Court will probably have,” Barab told CNBC on Friday.

Trade unions are already pushing in that direction. The AFL-CIO, the largest union of unions in the US, called on the White House to issue a new workplace safety standard that would require better ventilation, physical distancing, masking and paid leave for all workers.

AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler said in a statement, “While we are disappointed with the decision, the majority of the court clearly expressed the authority of OSHA to protect workers who face the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. accepted.” “OSHA’s responsibility remains firmly in place to provide safe working conditions.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million people primarily in meatpacking and food processing, wants the White House and businesses to provide free personal protective equipment in addition to measures being demanded by the AFL-CIO.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers, is pushing Congress and states to try and implement safeguards where the White House failed, including universal vaccination and widespread access to testing.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to lay off millions of essential workers, Congress and states must act urgently to require employers to protect all workers,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.

More than 20 states operate their own workplace-safety plans, and some have implemented COVID safety requirements. For example, California requires all employees and customers to wear a mask indoors, Businesses also i. should beimplement covid prevention plans, investigate outbreaks and notify employees within one day, and offer free testing to fully vaccinated employees, among other measures.

New York City has implemented a vaccine mandate for all private businesses. Mayor Eric Adams clarified on Friday that the city’s rules still apply.

Chicago requires everyone over the age of 5 to show proof of vaccination when eating indoors at restaurants, going to the gym, or entering indoor entertainment venues where food is served. Los Angeles There are similar rules.

President Joe Biden, for his part, called on companies to voluntarily enact vaccine and testing rules. Several large companies, including Citigroup, Nike and Columbia Sportswear, have said they will begin laying off workers without vaccinations.

“The court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority given by Congress to require this measure,” Biden said. “But that doesn’t stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and the economy.”

However, other companies are already abandoning the rules. General Electric, which has 174,000 employees, said on Friday it had suspended vaccine and testing rules.

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