During his campaign for the Presidency, Joe Biden called on President Donald Trump to:
“Establish and enforce health and safety standards for workplaces… The Trump Administration should immediately release and enforce an Emergency Temporary Standard… to give employers and frontline employees specific, enforceable guidance on what to do to reduce the spread of COVID.”
Biden became President on January 20, 2021. On January 21, Biden ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create emergency COVID-19 safety standards for workplaces by mid-March.
Then… nothing, for months.
In the meantime, the pandemic is being increasingly disappeared from public view, awash in a corporate media whitewash of the devastation and death facing large sectors of the public, particularly those of us who work in close quarters for a living.
Finally, in June, Biden’s OSHA announced that they would issue an emergency COVID-19 workplace safety standard, but only for healthcare workers.
Other workers? Nada.
This is “a betrayal of workers and worker safety,” said Jordan Barab, the Deputy Assistant of OSHA under President Barack Obama, as reported by Payday Report.
Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), the Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, and the first Black person elected to Congress from Virginia since Reconstruction had this to say:
“[The new standard] provides no meaningful protection to many workers who remain at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Workers in meat processing plants, prisons, homeless shelters, grocery stores, and many other workplaces will be forced to continue relying on voluntary safety guidance, which has failed to protect hundreds of thousands of workers and families from preventable infections throughout the pandemic…
“[F]ewer than half of Americans are currently fully vaccinated. With vaccination rates for Black and Brown people lagging far behind the overall population, the lack of a comprehensive workplace safety standard and the rapid reopening of the economy is a dangerous combination… [T]oday’s announcement is too little, too late for countless workers and families across the country.”
Trump was repeatedly accused of ignoring science, and basing his COVID-19 policies on politics instead. Apparently, what was good for the goose is now also good for the gander. As journalists Walker Bragman and Andrew Perez write:
“[I]t has become increasingly clear that the federal pandemic response framework developed under the Trump administration – where rules and regulations are left up to the states, and the White House bets everything on vaccines – has not fundamentally changed.”
Jordan Barab added:
“An OSHA standard is kind of like a skunk at the garden party. The whole theme of the Biden administration regarding COVID, is that things are getting better, things are getting better quickly. The more the messaging turned optimistic, the more the message was that we’re pulling our way out of this. The harder it became then to actually issue a standard.”
This is the kind of pragmatic politics that led Biden in the past to get “tough on crime” and fan the flames of mass incarceration, or to vote in support of George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The man already has much blood on his hands.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 200,000 have died from COVID-19 in the US since Biden became President. That is about one-third of reported COVID-19 deaths, and rising.
Meanwhile, Biden has joined the chorus of corporate voices demanding that workers get back to work. According to Biden:
“[A]nyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits. There are a few COVID-19-related exceptions so that people aren’t forced to choose between their basic safety and a paycheck, but, otherwise, that’s the law.”
None of those “few COVID-19-related exceptions” have anything to do with any federal standards, since none have been issued by the Biden administration.
New studies, including one by researchers at Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, suggest that there have been many thousands of COVID-19 deaths that have not made it into the official figures. The Biden administration has made no proclamations about these uncounted deaths, or issued any regulations designed to get the facts straight.
On the contrary, Biden’s CDC has quietly stopped investigating “breakthrough” infections among fully-vaccinated people unless they are hospitalized or die. The CDC says the number of breakthrough infections is too small to matter, but apparently too large to bother with. As a result, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is telling California counties not to even report post-vaccination cases unless someone is hospitalized or dies.
So, for example, if a vaccinated staff member at a nursing home gets sick and dies, the CDC and the CDPH might completely ignore infections among other staff or residents. In other words, forget contact-tracing, forget recording outbreaks, forget identifying variants, forget the possibility of long-term health issues.
The fact is that Biden, now that he is President, has just as much reason as Trump did to foster the impression that COVID-19 infections and deaths are lower than they actually are.
According to social epidemiologist Justen Feldman, Ph.D., at Harvard’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights:
“The Biden administration has failed frontline workers. Its policies have likely contributed to tens of thousands of deaths, largely among lower-income people of color. He can, and should, still act because COVID-19 is not going away, it’s likely to reemerge at higher levels this coming winter.”
The Sacramento Bee recently reported that in California, supposedly one of the safest states, employers have paid only about 3% of the total fines that have been levied against them for COVID-19 safety violations. Nearly all of some 200 workplaces have appealed $4.6 million in fines levied against them by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA).
These employers so far are paying nothing for their wanton behavior. But “workers have paid a very high price, and that price is still being paid today,” according to Stephen Knight, the Executive Director of Worksafe.
Kaiser Permanente has 12 citations totaling $526,235, involving facilities all over the California, but has not paid a penny to date. Nor have California prison officials paid any of their $430,000 in fines for violations that led to many deaths.
Barab, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of OSHA under President Obama, has this advice:
“Workers need to be active with their unions. They need to be active with their legislators. I mean, nobody’s gonna advocate for workers except for workers themselves.”