Predictions: The Biden Administration and Maintenance & Reliability

Authored by SMRP government relations staff members Drew Brackbill and Michael Taylor

New OSHA Standard Regarding Masks

  • President Joe Biden has committed to a much tougher stance on COVID-19 as one of his central priorities. In order to advance the Biden administration’s priorities on this issue, OSHA has issued stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus protection program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction. This guidance is called “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” and it details key measures for limiting coronavirus’ spread, including ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings. It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene and routine cleaning.

Biden’s Nomination for Labor Secretary

  • President Biden has nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be the new Secretary of Labor. Walsh is a veteran of organized labor, reflecting Biden’s campaign promise to support labor unions. Walsh is scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, February 4th.
  • Walsh will need to offer assurances about his policy bona-fides to Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, without over-committing himself or suffering any serious gaffes. Republicans will likely pressure him to discuss a number of legal and ethical questions arising from his tenure as Boston Mayor—including federal extortion charges that were levied against a pair of his aides. However, since Democrats hold an edge in the divided Senate, Walsh is likely to advance through to a floor vote, and is likely to be confirmed.
  • In addition to Walsh’s nomination, a wave of Biden appointees have arrived at the Department of Labor (DOL) in recent days. Further workplace policy and regulatory changes are likely as Biden works to restore a DOL that will operate similarly to the Obama-era Department of Labor. Dozens of seasoned labor picks were installed at DOL on Inauguration Day, and the latest round of hires likely will bolster the Employment and Training Administration, Wage and Hour Division, Solicitor of Labor’s office, and other units essential for pandemic economic recovery and for reversing course on the Trump administration’s agenda.
  • The focus of the new political staff will be to revise Trump-era rulemakings, such as on independent contractor status, and to pivot litigation stances on pending lawsuits against Trump regulations, such as on joint employment liability and religious exemptions to bias standards.
  • Biden appointees will enter DOL with a list of urgent priorities, including tough decisions on how to carry out Biden’s directive for DOL to consider guidance clarifying that workers have a right to remain on unemployment insurance if they refuse unsafe job offers.

Workforce Training Priorities of the New Administration

  • Biden made workforce development part of his campaign platform, and it seems likely that it will remain a priority for his administration given his personal and political history. Biden has said that he wants to invest heavily into workforce training by creating partnerships among community colleges; businesses; unions; universities and high schools; and state, local and tribal governments.
  • The Biden campaign website listed this plan as part of Biden’s education platform. The Biden campaign also indicated that Biden would attempt to create “more opportunities for high school students to take practical classes that lead to credentials.” Biden would also like to “invest in and allow Pell grants to be used for dual enrollment programs, so high school students can take classes at a community college and earn college credits or a credential prior to graduating from high school.”
  • In addition, we know that the registered apprenticeship system will feature heavily in a Biden administration’s attempt to bolster workforce training. Biden was a critic of the Trump administration’s Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP), which is still in its infancy, and which would provide for many more “earn while you learn” style apprenticeship programs. Biden instead encouraged community colleges to partner more with unions “who oversee some of the best apprenticeship programs throughout our nation, not watering down the quality of the apprenticeship system like President Trump is proposing”, which echoed a common labor-union criticism of the IRAP idea as a “watered down” form of the labor-controlled registered apprenticeship system.
  • Much of this agenda will need to be pushed by Biden’s Labor Secretary pick, Marty Walsh. But Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona, will also likely have a hand in the administration’s education and workforce efforts. Cardona’s nomination to lead the Education Department will be considered at a February 3rd Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. Cardona is best known for advocating for the reopening of Connecticut schools for in-person teaching. He is expected to help issue guidance to schools on steps they should take to reopen campuses safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

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