Posted November 5, 2021
The following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in response to the new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard issued by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) this week implementing the Biden-Harris Administration’s vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 employees. Since the start of the pandemic, workers and their allies have called on employers and all levels of government to issue comprehensive protections against the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces, and their advocacy and action has made this ETS possible. It is a step in the right direction, but workers still need more from employers, from this ETS, OSHA, and our federal government.
NELP acknowledges the indispensable role vaccines play in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces and our communities. While NELP supports the vaccine requirement, we do not believe that allowing employers to shift the cost of testing and protective equipment to those who are not vaccinated is the way forward. OSHA is taking an unprecedented step in shifting the costs of health and safety on the job to workers. This is a dangerous and unnecessary precedent. Workers, should not bear the costs of workplace safety. Such policies present workers with a false choice between workplace safety and their economic security, and the impact of such policies will fall disproportionately on Black, immigrant, and Indigenous workers and women workers who, because of occupational segregation, make up disproportionately large portions of the low-wage workforce.
Workers are a part of families and communities composed of all ages, all immunity levels, and facing various accessibility issues. NELP urges the administration to go further with its efforts to fund effective outreach to every community, to protect against both community and workplace spread of COVID-19. Workers are still waiting for an ETS that mandates employers to provide sufficient personal protective equipment, including N-95 masks, to every worker, and that contains enforceable rules about social distancing and adequate ventilation. Moreover, the federal government should ensure that there is ample free, rapid-testing for all people. Even those who are vaccinated will still need testing when exposed to COVID-19 and its increasingly contagious variants and it is far too difficult to find testing, and often quite costly.
We commend OSHA for this ETS which mandates paid time off for vaccinations and recovery from side-effects of vaccinations, but it is long past time for the United States to have mandatory paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave, and NELP urges Congress to include paid leave in the Build Back Better Act. NELP also stands in support of the National Labor Relations Act’s requirement for employers to bargain with their unionized workforces over terms and conditions of work, and implementing the terms of this ETS certainly falls into that category. Unions are indispensable partners in workplace health and safety and their participation will make for better policies and practices at workplaces across the country.
Finally, as OSHA oversees the rollout of this ETS, NELP urges it to consider how it can promote health and safety in the workplace for all workers. With adequate support and guidance, many more employers in this country can and should be subject to the same requirements as larger employers. NELP looks forward to working with OSHA on further refinements to this ETS.