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OSHA vaccine, test rules protect workers, help the economy: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh

EXCLUSIVE: Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told Fox News Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Agency’s COVID-19 vaccine rule introduced on Thursday will ensure “safe and healthy workplaces for millions of Americans.”

Walsh argued that the mandate will help business, not harm, and that it is a legal measure by the government.

Employers with more than 100 employees must ensure that all of their employees are fully vaccinated or subject to weekly tests and masking requirements by January 4th. Fully vaccinated means that the employee has received two vaccinations from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, or one vaccination from Johnson & Johnson.

“The unchecked spread of the coronavirus in the workplace puts unvaccinated workers at great risk of illness or death,” Walsh told Fox News. “This rule is within the powers of OSHA under OSH law and is consistent with OSHA’s requirements for worker protection.”

Senior administrative officials said OSHA will also help employers develop their vaccine and testing standards.

OSHA VACATION ORDER FOR LARGE EMPLOYERS JAN. 4, WITH HIGHER FINES FOR NON-COMPLIANCE

The rule also requires employers to give their employees paid time to be vaccinated, and requires all unvaccinated employees to wear a face mask in the workplace.

Companies that fail to comply can face fines of up to $ 14,000 per violation, with the possibility of being cited multiple times.

The rule will also “prevent inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that prohibit or restrict an employer’s power to require vaccinations, masks or tests,” the White House said.

The rule should affect around 84 million employees; 70% of all adults in the US are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks during a press conference at the White House in Washington, April 2, 2021.
(REUTERS / Erin Scott / File Photo)

Walsh broken down the details of the formal OSHA rule in an exclusive interview with Fox News:

Why is OSHA issuing this new rule?

Walsh: As Minister of Labor, I am committed to ensuring that everyone who works in the country has safe and healthy working conditions. The unchecked spread of the coronavirus in the workplace puts unvaccinated workers at great risk of illness or death.

More than 745,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus in less than two years, and 5 million people worldwide. Many were workers who got sick or lost their lives due to exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

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They are not just statistics, but important workers in our communities – grocery workers and delivery drivers, farm workers and meat packers, first responders and plumbing workers, and many more, people who have been there for us.

We have to do the right thing for our employees. And that’s why OSHA is taking this step today.

Will the ruling allow exceptions for employees? Are workers with a history of side effects from vaccines, health problems, or people with religious objections exempted?

Walsh: If an employee cannot be vaccinated because of a disability or a genuine religious belief that is contrary to vaccination, they should speak to their employer. The Equal Opportunities Commission gives advice on how employers can evaluate these applications.

What do you say to workers who swear they will quit their jobs if they are forced to obey vaccination regulations?

Walsh: This new standard is designed to help ensure safe and healthy workplaces for millions of Americans. The numbers, science and data clearly show that the unchecked spread of the coronavirus in the workplace poses a serious risk of illness or death for unvaccinated workers. In order to protect workers from this ongoing danger, OSHA has not only the authority but also the obligation to issue a temporary emergency standard to protect workers from the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace.

We will work closely with employers across the country to implement this policy and ensure that both employers and employees understand the process of compliance.

Do you think these mandates will hurt America’s economic recovery if workers hesitant to vaccinate quit their jobs?

Walsh: Protecting workers from serious illness in the workplace helps keep our economy going. We have already seen that companies that encourage or require their workers to be vaccinated have been successful in getting almost all workers vaccinated and reducing its prevalence in the workplace.

External economists also expect these and similar measures to increase the workforce by up to 5 million, which is crucial for our country’s economic growth. Our path out of the pandemic is mapped out by keeping more people safe from COVID-19, and this policy is one way we can help.

Do companies have to pass on employee vaccination records to Biden administration? If not, how would the mandates be enforced?

Walsh: As with other OSHA regulations, employers are generally required to keep records consistent with the requirements of the ETS [emergency temporary standard] and data protection laws. Employers are also obliged to provide employees, upon request, with information about the number of fully vaccinated employees and the total number of employees at a workplace. Every day employers adhere to OSHA rules. For 50 years we have established rules that protect workplaces, and they are enforced because both employers and employees want a safe workplace. As for this particular policy, we will work carefully with employers to ensure they can comply with it.

Does the Biden administration believe that OSHA authorized these mandates? If so, is President Biden moving OSHA and why?

Walsh: The Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed to ensure that everyone working in the country has safe and healthy working conditions. This law gives OSHA the power to act quickly in an emergency to address the grave danger workers are exposed to when a standard is required to protect them.

The evidence shows us that unvaccinated employees are at serious risk of contracting COVID-19 through contact with contagious individuals in the workplace and through serious illness or death, and that vaccinations or weekly tests and face covers are required to protect them. This rule is within the powers of OSHA under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and is consistent with OSHA’s requirements for worker protection.

How will the Department of Labor respond to an order from Texas Governor Greg Abbott preventing corporations and other private entities from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated?

Walsh: OSHA law states that all state or local laws relating to occupational health and safety issues for which OSHA has a standard will be anticipated unless they are part of an OSHA-approved state plan.

In particular, the ETS anticipates any state or local requirements that prohibit or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccinations, face covering, or testing.

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