OSHA Rules and Executive Orders Will Force Changes in Healthcare

January 23, 2021

            New Orleans      Executive orders unraveling the Trump era are raining down from the White House now as President Biden signs one after another. As the headlines indicate, many of them are reversing or halting bad business, diplomacy, and other cornerstones of the former administration. Some of the orders though are filling critical voids where there was not benign neglect, but malign neglect, especially when it comes to workers, and more critically, essential workers like those in healthcare and other frontline positions.

His orders on federal employees and the almost four million Service Contract Act workers are significant of course.         He’s insisted that no federal worker be paid less than $15 per hour, and few were, but as importantly he has taken steps to restore their collective bargaining rights that had been stalled and eviscerated over recent years. For federal governmental contractors, he didn’t mandate $15 per hour, but he didn’t need to do so. By directing them to move in that direction, he signaled that the DOL Wage and Hour surveys would never question area wage rates over that level. Section 4-C says that if there is a collective bargaining agreement with a union, then the wage determination set by the DOL for bidding and approving any new contract, shall be set at the negotiated level.         The ink won’t be dry on this order before wage proposals and bids will move over $15 for such contractors, and that’s where most of the estimated millions of beneficiaries on this order will be found.

All that is good, but the steps he is taking to order OSHA to finally come up with rules to protect workers on their job sites during the pandemic are huge. In additional instructions, as the New York Times reports,

…Biden will also seek to allow workers to draw unemployment benefits if they quit jobs they fear are unsafe amid the pandemic, by asserting “that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance,” White House officials said in a fact sheet detailing the orders.

A Local 100 organizer emailed me a sort message to the point: “Wow, this would have crippled our worksites.” Indeed, we filed OSHA complaints that went nowhere on several of them for forcing workers in personal care jobs at homes for the differently abled to have to work even when exposed. Nursing home workers we represented were being forced to work without adequate PPE, sometimes having to share equipment, wash out masks and face shields, and buy their own supplies. Mind my words, these facilities are desperate for workers, so if workers know that they can leave the job when their health is threatened and collect, they can be confident there will still be a similar job waiting for them later.

With these orders, workers, especially those unorganized and represented by unions, will have some real weapons to wield on the job to force employers to finally protect them and the clients.

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Replacing Lead Service Lines – Perfect Infrastructure Project

January 22, 2021

New Orleans      Recently, Social Policy was lucky enough to have fifty contributors offer ideas suggesting priorities for the new Biden administration. There were some amazing recommendations, and we’ll dig into more of them soon, but one comes to mind now as all sides in the warm glow of the inauguration are claiming they want to look for projects where there might be bipartisan agreement: infrastructure. Wait, I’m not through. I realize that some of these infrastructure proposals bring the hair up on the back of too many necks, where the tradeoff for more jobs can be questionable highways, industrial canals, bridges to nowhere, and all manner of so-called “shovel ready” projects that are less about repair and more about what a friend once called “edifice complexes.” Richard Diaz, an organizer and activist in Milwaukee, had a short and sweet contribution that was spot on when it comes to infrastructure. He called for governmental replacement of lead service lines or what they call whips in New Orleans.

Do we need to make this happen? Ask the former governor and other officials in Michigan now under criminal indictment for not acting to stop the poisoning of water in Flint, Michigan. In fact, ask mayors and governors all across the country who are struggling with this problem because of cost. Different cities have tried to craft fixes here. Some cities have stepped up to the job, but on timelines that stretch out for decades. Some states, Louisiana for one, have made it state law to try and force residents to pay for replacing lead prices that cities and states often mandated, which was also the situation in Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin replaced all of their lines at their own cost, but they are the heroic exception.

As cities are drowning in debt with tax losses during the pandemic, it’s hard to pretend they can or will step up to this problem on their own, despite the scientific and public health consensus that any lead being swallowed, especially by children, is destructive. Look, the price is huge, $10 billion, but how large is that really, when we talk about several trillion here and there for stimulus. Estimates for infrastructure projects nationally are trillions as well. Put all that together and $10 billion isn’t chump, but it seems reasonable, and, even better, solves a huge, critical problem, and does so in way that most politicians should love, by fixing something that voters can see in almost every city in the country, and even more powerfully, does so in their front yards.

Seen all together, getting rid of lead service lines almost seems like a no-brainer, no matter the cost.

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