EXCLUSIVE: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Fox News Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 vaccine rule introduced Thursday will ensure “safe and healthy workplaces for millions of Americans.”
Walsh argued that the mandate will help, not hurt, the economy, and that it is a legal action by the administration.
Employers with more than 100 employees must ensure that all their workers are either fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, or subject to weekly testing and mask wearing. Fully vaccinated means that the employee has received two doses of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech’s shots, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s shot.
“The unmitigated spread of coronavirus in the workplace presents a grave danger of illness or death to unvaccinated workers,” Walsh told Fox News. “This rule is well within OSHA’s authority under the OSH Act, and consistent with OSHA’s requirements to protect workers.”
Senior administration officials said that OSHA will also assist employers in developing their vaccine and testing standards.
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The rule also requires that employers provide paid-time for employees to get vaccinated, and mandates that all unvaccinated employees wear a face mask in the workplace.
Businesses that fail to comply could face fines reaching as much as $14,000 per violation, with the potential for multiple citations.
The rule will also “preempt any inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing,” the White House said.
The rule is set to impact roughly 84 million employees; 70% of all U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, according to the administration.
Walsh broke down the details of the formal OSHA rule in an exclusive interview with Fox News:
Why is OSHA issuing this new rule?
Walsh: “As Secretary of Labor, my commitment is ensuring every working person in the country has safe and healthy working conditions. The unmitigated spread of coronavirus in the workplace presents a grave danger of illness or death to unvaccinated workers.”
“More than 745,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus and 5 million people globally in less than two years. Many were workers who became ill or lost their lives because of workplace exposure to COVID-19.”
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“They are not just statistics but essential workers in our communities – grocery workers and delivery drivers, farmworkers and meat packers, first responders and sanitation workers and so many more, people who were there for us.”
“We must do what is right for our workforce. And that is why OSHA is taking this step today.”
Will the ruling allow exemptions for workers? Will workers with a history of adverse side effects to vaccines, health issues, or those with religious objections, be exempt?
Walsh: “If an employee is unable to be vaccinated because of a disability or because they have a sincerely held religious belief that conflicts with vaccination, they should talk to their employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has guidance on how employers can evaluate these requests.”
What do you say to workers who vow to quit their jobs if they are forced to follow the vaccine mandates?
Walsh: “This new standard is designed to help ensure safe and healthy workplaces for millions of Americans. The numbers, science, and data clearly show the unmitigated spread of coronavirus in the workplace presents a grave danger of illness or death to unvaccinated workers. In order to protect workers from this continued hazard, OSHA has not only the authority, but the obligation to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from the spread of coronavirus in the workplace.”
“We will work closely with employers across the country to implement this policy, and ensure both employers and workers understand the process of complying.”
If workers with vaccine hesitancy quit their jobs, do you feel that these mandates will hurt America’s economic recovery?
Walsh: “Protecting workers from getting seriously ill on the job helps keep our economy moving. We’ve already seen businesses encouraging or requiring workers to get vaccinated have been successful in getting nearly all employees vaccinated and reducing workplace spread.”
“Outside economists also expect this and similar policies to expand the labor force by up to 5 million, which is critical to our country’s economic growth. Our path out of the pandemic is charted by protecting more people from COVID-19 and this policy is one way to help us do just that.”
Will companies be required to share employees’ proof of vaccination with the Biden administration? If not, how would the mandates be enforced?
Walsh: “As with other OSHA regulations, employers will generally be required to keep records consistent with the requirements of the ETS and privacy laws. Employers are also required to provide information to employees upon request about the number of fully vaccinated employees and the total number of employees at a workplace. Every day, employers comply with OSHA rules. For 50 years, we have put forth rules that protect workplaces, and they are enforced because both employers and workers want a safe workplace. As for this specific policy, we will be working diligently with employers to ensure they can comply.”
Is the Biden administration’s belief that OSHA authorized these mandates? If so, is President Biden deferring to OSHA, and why?
Walsh: “The OSH Act was adopted to ensure every working person in the country has safe and healthy working conditions. That law gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency to address grave danger faced by workers when a standard is necessary to protect them.”
Walsh: “The evidence shows us that unvaccinated employees are in grave danger of contracting COVID-19 from exposure to contagious people in the workplace and facing serious illness or death, and that vaccination or weekly testing and face coverings are necessary to protect them. This rule is well within OSHA’s authority under the OSH Act, and consistent with OSHA’s requirements to protect workers.”
How will the Department of Labor respond to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring companies and other private entities from requiring employees or customers to get vaccinated?
Walsh: “The OSHA law says that any state or local laws related to an occupational safety and health issue on which OSHA has a standard are preempted unless it is part of an OSHA-approved state plan.”
“In particular, the ETS preempts any state or local requirements that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, face covering, or testing.”