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Opinion | There’s a Step Biden Can Take to Help Workers, and He Hasn’t Done It

As a candidate, Mr. Biden criticized this method, assailing what he referred to as Mr. Trump’s “foot-dragging.” The day after Mr. Biden was sworn into workplace, he signed an government order directing OSHA to evaluate the matter and, if warranted, to problem an emergency non permanent commonplace by March 15. But greater than a month later, no commonplace has appeared, main some to concern that the concept has been shelved. Marty Walsh, Mr. Biden’s secretary of labor, mentioned on MSNBC this month that the administration was looking into the usual.

One potential rationalization for Mr. Biden’s personal foot-dragging is that, with vaccination charges rising, the administration not believes motion is critical. However the risk to staff has hardly disappeared, notably as new coronavirus variants proceed to unfold.

In Michigan, which has skilled a surge in Covid infections, greater than half of latest reported Covid outbreaks have occurred in workplaces. “Vaccinations are serving to, however we’re nowhere close to a scenario the place harmful exposures are below management,” mentioned David Michaels, an epidemiologist on the George Washington College Milken Institute College of Public Well being, who was the director of OSHA below Mr. Obama. A union representing staff at a pork slaughterhouse in Oklahoma, which has had one of many largest outbreaks within the meatpacking trade, recently filed a complaint accusing the plant of not taking sufficient measures to guard staff. (The corporate has denied this.)

One more reason the Biden administration could also be hedging? Politics — specifically, the need to keep away from antagonizing governors in addition to enterprise teams just like the Nationwide Retail Federation, which has urged the company to chorus from imposing “rigid and expensive burdens on employers.” This opposition is unsurprising: For many years, commerce associations have opposed many new OSHA rules, typically warning that the principles will wipe out jobs and constrain business. In response to Dr. Michaels, such fears have usually proved unfounded.

Though some states, together with California and Virginia, have issued their very own requirements, staff in most locations are nonetheless unprotected — a matter that must concern supporters of racial justice at least advocates for staff’ rights. “The important staff getting sick are in occupations which might be disproportionately made up of Black and brown staff,” mentioned Deborah Berkowitz of the Nationwide Employment Regulation Undertaking. A living proof is the meatpacking trade, the place line staff are overwhelmingly immigrants and other people of coloration and the place, as Ms. Berkowitz lately instructed Congress, extra staff have died of Covid previously 12 months than from all different work-related hazards previously 15 years.

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