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Unions Float Two Picks To Be Workplace Safety Chief Under Biden

Published Thursday, November 26, 2020
by Bloomberg Law
Unions Float Two Picks To Be Workplace Safety Chief Under Biden

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Organized Labor is touting two veterans from within its ranks as potential Biden Administration picks to lead the Federal Government’s Workplace Safety Agency through the Coronavirus Pandemic-induced crisis.

Jim Frederick, who retired last year after 24 years as the United Steelworkers’ (USW) Assistant Health and Safety Director, and Chris Cain, Safety and Health Director at North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), both got support to lead the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during a meeting earlier this week of National AFL-CIO Affiliate Unions, two sources familiar with the discussions said.

President-Elect Joe Biden‘s choice for Labor Secretary will take first priority, but his selection for OSHA Assistant Secretary will have outsized influence next year in overseeing an agency that’s under heightened national scrutiny over its responsibility to protect Workers from contracting COVID-19 while on-the-job.

The Trump Administration has faced widespread criticism from Unions and other Worker Advocates that OSHA’s response hasn’t been aggressive enough to meet the occupational safety challenges created by the pandemic.

The National AFL-CIO convened the virtual meeting to go over its affiliates’ choices for a larger list of recommendations that will be sent to the Biden Transition Team, four sources said.

The Labor Movement, which has slammed the Trump Administration for not issuing an enforceable Occupational Safety Regulation to address COVID-19, is expected to have influence over the incoming administration’s picks to serve in leadership roles at the Labor Department.

Another Union Official, who didn’t take part in the National AFL-CIO meeting, told Bloomberg Law that at least some Unions will be recommending Frederick to Biden’s team independently of the National AFL-CIO.

The Union Federation’s list of recommendations remains in flux, three sources said.

“We are working with the Biden-Harris team ‘to assemble the most Pro-Worker’ administration in our Nation’s history,” National AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said. “We ‘continue to solicit input from Affiliate Unions on key posts and will share those recommendations with the transition on a rolling basis.’”

Biden’s pledges to increase the urgency of the Federal Government’s pandemic response and to quickly issue an emergency temporary standard to address airborne transmission of the virus in the workplace suggest the transition team could name someone for OSHA’s Senate-confirmed leadership job more promptly than in past Presidential transitions.

In fact, some former Labor Department Officials have said that the urgency to issue a temporary standard to protect Workers from COVID-19 may demand Biden be ready on Inauguration Day to install a politically-appointed acting head for OSHA, to circumvent the inevitable delays in the Senate confirmation process.

Frederick, who has continued to work as a consultant since retiring from his role at the USW in 2019, said he would be “honored to serve in the administration to advance Worker safety and health.”  He added that Biden’s team hasn’t approached him about the OSHA position.

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