Unions push White House to add worker protection to Biden’s vaccination mandate

President Joe Biden watches AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler speak during a trade union event on September 8, 2021, at the East Hall of the White House in Washington, DC.

Oliver Contreras | AP

Some of the country’s largest unions are pushing for the Biden administration to expand its mandate for vaccines for private companies to include additional protections for workers, including mask requirements and other safety measures to minimize the spread of Covid-19.

AFL-CIO and about two dozen other large unions representing teachers, service workers, meat processing plants, auto and steel workers spoke with the Biden administration about the proposed safety rules during a teleconference on October 18 with White House officials from the US Office. Management and budget.

“We have highlighted the importance of mitigation measures,” Rebecca Reindel, who represented AFL-CIO during a telephone call, told CNBC. “We really need to get ahead of the source of transmission of the virus. It takes time to get vaccinated, but for now we need protection measures, ”Reindel said.

Three major labor groups, notably the AFL-CIO, the International Union of Service Workers and the International Union of Food and Commercial Workers, told CNBC that they were asking the administration to expand employee protection, requiring employers to improve ventilation and enforce mask rules and social conditions. distancing. Reindel said companies should also be required to conduct risk assessments in consultation with workers to determine what combination of mitigation measures is needed to best protect their employees in the workplace.

President Joe Biden directed the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write a rule requiring private companies with 100 or more employees to ensure that they are all vaccinated or tested for Covid-19 weekly.

OMB and Labor Department officials have held dozens of calls and meetings with industry lobbyists in the past two weeks as OMB reviews the mandate, OMB records show. Vaccine and weekly testing requirements will take effect shortly after the OMB completes its review.

AFL-CIO calls for drastic measures to protect workers from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020… However, OSHA, which oversees workplace safety, has yet to release any general Covid safety guidelines.

Instead, OSHA issued requirements during the summer are limited to healthcare professionals… Most healthcare providers have had to develop plans to reduce the risk of Covid, ensure that employees wear masks indoors, keep people 6 feet apart indoors, set up barriers in workplaces when employees are not 6 feet apart , and provide adequate ventilation – among other things. a number of other requirements.

The AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers have sued the Biden administration, arguing that the OSHA standard “does not protect employees outside of the healthcare industry who face such a serious occupational exposure hazard from COVID-19.” Unions special mention is made of meat packaging, grocery, transportation and patching. as industries where workers need the Department of Labor to issue mandatory safety standards for Covid.

Trade unions and the Labor Department submitted a joint petition in September for pause the case until the Biden administration issues a mandate for vaccinations and weekly testing. The court requires the parties to issue a joint status report on Monday.

“The harsh reality is that current COVID safety guidelines are simply not enough and millions of key workers are forced to take care of themselves,” said Mark Perrone, President of United Food and Commercial Workers. said in August after OSHA issued voluntary guidelines recommending masks for vaccinated employees working in high transmission areas… “What we need now is a clear, binding COVID workplace safety standard that will protect America’s key workers still at the forefront of this deadly pandemic.”

Perrone said his union is now waiting to see if mitigation is included in the vaccine and testing mandate. “If we still have concerns, we will move forward,” he said, referring to the lawsuit. The group represents 1.3 million employees in the grocery, retail, meat processing, food, cannabis, chemical and distillery industries, including employees at Tysons Food, Kroger, Macy’s, Cargill and Pfizer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally considers the people in these industries to be indispensable workers.

The UFCW warned in an August letter to the Department of Labor that vaccination – while important – does not eliminate the danger that Covid poses to workers as the high-intensity delta variant spreads, vaccine efficacy diminishes over time, and new mutations of the virus emerge.

AFL-CIO, in the May reportFrom the start of the pandemic in April 2020 to April this year, 1,833 Covid outbreaks, nearly 90,000 infections and 378 deaths in the meat processing, food and agricultural sectors have been detected. A House Select Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee report found that infections among meat packing workers were almost three times higher than previously reported.

“There will be certain people who are not going to accept [the vaccine] and get tested, and then if you don’t have mitigation measures like masks, you are kind of failing your goal, ”Perron told CNBC.

In September, the International Union of Service Workers asked the Biden administration to expand the vaccine mandate to include additional protections. The union represents 2 million workers in basic services such as cleaners, health care and other professions.

“Multiple mitigation measures, including but not limited to camouflage and distancing, as well as quarantine after infection or positive tests, are still needed to protect against outbreaks,” wrote Leslie Frain, the union’s executive vice president, in a September letter to chapter OSHA to James Frederick. …

SEIU and UFCW also called for workers to receive paid vacations and post-vaccination leave, paid leave to quarantine and recover from the virus, and free Covid tests for workers with on-the-job testing options. In September, the Biden administration said it would also require businesses with more than 100 employees to provide paid leave to vaccinate and recover.

United Auto Workers declined to specifically comment on whether it wants the vaccine and testing mandate to include measures to mitigate the impact of Covid. The big three automakers have already implemented extensive security protocols against Covid. While it supports vaccinations in general, the union opposes requiring them as part of a federal or employer mandate. The union will review the vaccine and testing mandate when it is published, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg told CNBC.

“We are waiting for the standards, because we have over 700 contracts, and we will have to study them and see how they affect our contracts,” he said.

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