California workplace safety chief to be tapped to lead OSHA

By Rebecca Rainey , Eleanor Mueller
04/09/2021 02:41 PM EDT Updated: 04/09/2021 04:21 PM EDT

President Joe Biden will nominate California’s workplace safety chief, Doug Parker, to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the White House said Friday.

The role has taken on outsize importance amid the pandemic and as the administration is weighing whether to issue an emergency temporary standard to create a set of enforceable, Covid-19-related workplace safety regulations.

Biden, who campaigned on issuing such an emergency standard immediately, originally directed his Labor Department to decide by March 15 whether it was necessary. But Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said Thursday that the agency is still considering whether a standard is needed.

The news of Parker’s nomination was first reported by POLITICO.

Parker heads California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health and previously worked at the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration. He also started his legal career as an attorney at the United Mine Workers of America, according to the White House.

Safety experts lauded the nomination, pointing to his track record policing workplace Covid-19 risks at the state level.

“Cal/OSHA has conducted almost as much enforcement in one state in 2020 as the federal OSHA did” altogether said Debbie Berkowitz an adviser at OSHA during the Obama administration.

“Doug gets the importance of an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from COVID-19 and strong enforcement for violators,” added Berkowitz, now with the left-leaning National Employment Law Project.

David Michaels, former OSHA chief during the Obama administration, added that Parker’s work is carved out for him.

“He faces a very difficult challenge,” said Michaels. “COVID is a massive worker safety crisis, and OSHA has not even been permitted to issue an Emergency Standard.”

Walsh on Thursday defended the slow pace of OSHA’s progress on a coronavirus workplace safety standard, saying on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “I wouldn’t say it’s a delay, I’d say we’re looking at this … just to see before we move forward with any kind of standard, if we need to move forward with a standard.”

According to the Labor Department, Walsh has requested “a rapid update” on the standard “based on CDC analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants.”

Parker joins several other California officials headed to Washington. Most notably, Biden has nominated California Labor Secretary Julie Su to serve as Walsh’s second-in-command.

Su, who was originally floated for the No. 1 spot, has yet to receive a Senate vote on confirmation. Her testimony before the Senate labor panel was decidedly more controversial than Walsh’s: Republicans grilled her on the state’s struggle with unemployment insurance fraud, among other things.

Also of concern for businesses and their allies: Su’s role in implementing California’s own version of an emergency temporary standard, which many employers have derided as unworkable. That set of rules will undoubtedly present challenges for Parker as well: As head of California’s own workplace safety agency, he played a key role in developing and rolling out the regulations.

“The Virginia standard, the Michigan standard take [employers’] efforts into account,” National Retail Federation Vice President Ed Egee said earlier this year. But California has “a completely unworkable standard,” he added.

“Hopefully we can work together more constructively at the federal level than we did at the state level,” Egee said of Parker’ s nomination. “I want to keep an open mind.”

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