US Federal Labor ViewpointsThis is a weekly post spotlighting labor topics in focus by the US legislative and executive branches during the previous week.

In this issue, we cover:

  • Federal Vaccine Mandate Updates
  • COVID-19 Updates
  • America COMPETES Act Unveiled
  • Unions Update
  • Burma Business Advisory Issued

On January 28, U.S. President Joe Biden was in Pittsburgh to spotlight his Administration’s efforts to strengthening the nation’s supply chains, revitalize American manufacturing and create union jobs via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  Notably, his visit came just hours after a bridge unexpectedly collapsed in Pittsburgh that had injuries, but no deaths, reported.

This coming Sunday (January 30), nearly 70,000 federal workers will immediately start to earn $15 an hour, and 300,000 employees of federal contractors will start to see a raise to $15 an hour reflected in their paychecks over the course of the year.  In a statement on Friday, President Biden urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The U.S. Congress will return to session on February 1, after being in recess this past week.

Federal Vaccine Mandate Updates.  On January 26, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) withdrew its vaccine or test emergency temporary standard (ETS) for employers with 100 or more employees, effective that day, upon publication in The Federal Register.  While OSHA withdrew the ETS as an enforceable ETS, it is not withdrawing it as a proposed rule.  See our blog posting for further details on next steps the agency may take.

Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) issued a statement after the Biden Administration withdrew its ETS but not its proposed rule.  She noted:

The fact that OSHA has finally rescinded its ETS after the Supreme Court ruled against it is welcome news, but the Biden administration must close the door on this tyrannical mandate by abandoning consideration of a proposed final standard to turn America’s job creators into the vaccine-and-testing police.”

On January 25, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), OSHA’s sister agency, unveiled a pilot vaccine outreach program to encourage miners in Arizona and Kentucky to get vaccinated by hosting vaccination clinics:

  • On January 26, the agency held a public vaccine clinic at the Kentucky Crushed Stone Association Safety and Education Seminar in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • In Arizona, MSHA held two vaccine clinics: (1) Asarco Ray Mine in Kearny on January 25, and (2) Asarco Mission Mine in Sahuarita on January 26.

On January 28, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares responded to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s (Republican) request for an official advisory opinion with regard to whether public colleges and universities could require students to receive vaccinations, including booster shots, against COVID-19.  His first-ever legal opinion he noted that the Virginia General Assembly has yet to amend existing laws to require such vaccinations.

COVID-19 Updates.  On January 24, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) restricted the use of monoclonal antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly, saying the drugs are unlikely to work against the Omicron variant.  The FDA stated:

[T]hese treatments are not authorized for use in any U.S. states, territories, and jurisdictions at this time. In the future, if patients in certain geographic regions are likely to be infected or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments, then use of these treatments may be authorized in these regions.”

Separately, GSK and Vir Biotech are reportedly boosting production of their drug sotrovimab to help meet soaring demand in the United States.  The FDA has also expanded its approval for the use of Gilead Sciences’ antiviral COVID-19 drug remdesivir to treat non-hospitalized patients aged 12 years and above.

The United States is also closely monitoring the new subvariant to Omicron – BA.2 – that is driving new outbreaks in parts of Europe, such as Denmark, the UK and Norway, and other parts of the world (49 countries have reported cases).  There are concerns that the specific mutations identified with the BA.2 subtype could make it more contagious or better able to evade vaccines, which has allowed Omicron to spread pervasively around the world.  Thus far, 17 American states have reported some BA.2 cases.  Notably, the World Health Organization has yet to classify BA.2 as a “variant of concern.”

On January 25, Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a discussion draft of bipartisan legislation to improve America’s pandemic preparedness and response.  The bill – the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) – includes input from bipartisan Committee members and was co-authored with HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Washington).  Legislative text for the discussion draft is available here; section-by-section of the bill here.

America COMPETES Act Unveiled.  On January 25, House Democrats unveiled text of the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (“America COMPETES Act”; H.R. 4521).  In the House Education & Labor Committee’s jurisdiction, the bill includes investments to increase pathways to STEM and computer science education, expand Registered Apprenticeship programs to train more workers, and strengthen America’s economic competitiveness.  Bill text is available here; Section-by-section is available here; Fact sheet is available here.

Unions Update.  On January 21, House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and Committee Democrats filed an amicus brief urging the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to reinstate a policy under the Specialty Healthcare precedent to prevent anti-union employers from gerrymandering union representation elections.  Committee Democrats say the current standard gives employers excessive power to determine who can participate in a union election, arguing employers can more easily rig union elections by forcing a group of workers seeking to form a union to absorb workers who may have never expressed interest in joining a union.

Burma Business Advisory Issued.  On January 26, the Labor Department – in collaboration with the Departments of the Treasury, State, Commerce, Homeland Security and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative – issued a Burma Business Advisory highlighting the risks of doing business with Burma, citing corruption, illicit finance and human rights abuses.  U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said of the advisory action:

The Burmese military have relentlessly attacked and arrested union leaders and members. These actions are unacceptable.  The Burma Business Advisory serves to remind all businesses and individuals to consider the serious risks of doing business there, and ensure they do not directly or indirectly support the country’s military junta.  By making labor exploitation unprofitable to the regime, governments around the world and the business community can stand in opposition to the military’s repression, while keeping goods produced by child and forced labor out of our supply chains.”