The Biden Administration and 117th Congress, with its new Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, have only just begun taking shape. However, we already know that Democratic politicians are eager to get started on some of their more progressive policy objectives. For the trucking industry, one of the most important of these is labor policy.
Starting with Congress, we know that many initiatives begun in the last session will carry over to this year. This includes consideration of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which passed through the House in February 2020 on a largely party-line vote. As we previously explained, this bill would reinforce in federal law the “ABC test” to determine whether an individual is an employee rather than an independent contractor, similar to California’s AB5 law that is currently being challenged in the courts. At that time, TCA was not concerned about the bill’s chances of becoming law thanks to the backstop of the Republican-held Senate and a Republican President who had threatened to veto the bill if it did pass. Now, with the Democrats in control, the chances for the PRO Act to become law is much higher. While the bill has not yet be reintroduced for the 117th Congress, we expect it to reemerge in the coming months.
President Biden is also charting a course toward significant action on labor policy. On January 21, he signed an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, highlighting his Administration’s plan to prioritize protecting workers against COVID-19. Among other things, this Order directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue revised guidance to employers on pandemic workplace safety and consider whether emergency temporary standards related to the pandemic should be issued. If OSHA determines more stringent standards are necessary, they must issue them by March 15.
On January 29, OSHA released new worker safety guidance aimed at helping employers and workers implement a coronavirus prevention program. Elements that OSHA recommends featuring in a prevention program include conducting a hazard assessment and adopting policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potential infected individuals to stay home, among other things. The guidance details key measures for limiting COVID’s spread, including implementing and following physical distancing protocols and wearing masks. It also provides guidance on the use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene and routine cleaning. While this guidance is a first step, OSHA has indicated that emergency temporary standards could be coming in the next several weeks.
Experts are advising companies to begin preparing now for OSHA’s emergency temporary standards because once they are put forth, they will be in place for many months and could eventually become permanent. Industry can expect these standards to mirror those already established in several states, particularly Virginia, California, Michigan, and Oregon. Most likely to be included in a federal standard include requirements for employers to adopt a written COVID-19 response plan, provide employees with personal protective equipment, and notify government agencies when COVID-19 cases occur in the workplace.
TCA will continue monitoring the status of OSHA’s impending nationwide standard and will provide updates to our membership when it is released. Beyond OSHA, President Biden’s nominees for various cabinet level positions have highlighted a focus on labor issues. Both Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo stated during their Senate Commerce Committee hearings that they would prioritize worker protections if they were confirmed to their respective roles. While the full extent of the Biden Administration’s emphasis on labor policy remains to be seen, the truckload industry can be sure that the heightened focus will go far beyond what we experienced over the previous four years.