Trump Labor Secretary curtails unemployment benefits, other worker relief efforts

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP speaks during the daily coronavirus briefing as Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia looks on in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 9, 2020 in Washington, D.C. – Alex Wong/Getty Images photo

The Trump Labor Department has taken action to limit the scope of worker assistance and health protections deemed too cumbersome for employers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, who has expressed concerns about unemployment insurance being too generous, has used his department’s authority over new laws enacted by Congress to limit who qualifies for joblessness assistance and to make it easier for small businesses not to pay family leave benefits.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to cause unprecedented mass layoffs across the nation, with nearly 17 million Americans applying for unemployment insurance, Scalia has scaled back paid leave provisions and limited who can qualify for expanded unemployment benefits

“The Labor Department chose the narrowest possible definition of who qualifies for pandemic unemployment assistance,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, who has spent two decades working on unemployment programs.

The Washington Post reported last week that Scalia is also facing internal criticism over his management of OSHA during such a critical moment for workplace safety.

“The CDC has issued recommendations for the public and businesses to follow practices such as social distancing and sanitizing workstations. OSHA could make those guidelines mandatory for all employers or for all essential employees but has not done so,” the Post reported.

“Under Scalia, OSHA has also decided against issuing safety requirements to protect hospital and healthcare workers, including rules that would mandate nurses and other providers be given masks and protective gear recommended by the CDC when at risk of exposure.”

The Washington Post reports the department hasn’t ordered employers to follow safeguards, including the wearing of masks, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the Labor Department, released new rules last week informing most employers that they will not be required to record and report coronavirus cases among their workers because doing so would constitute an excessive burden.

Because COVID-19 is officially classified as a recordable illness, employers would typically be required to notify OSHA of coronavirus cases among their workers.

The DOL’s new regulatory guidelines state that — with some exceptions — employers outside of the healthcare industry, law enforcement and firefighting and corrections will not be required to report coronavirus cases among their employees because companies “may have difficulty making determinations about whether workers who contracted COVID-19 did so due to exposures at work.”

David Jamieson, Labor reporter for the Huffington Post, tweeted “OSHA just told most employers that if their workers get sick with COVID-19 they don’t have to figure out if it happened at work. So if you work in a grocery store or factory then sorry, the coronavirus cases there probably aren’t being reported.”

Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary at OSHA, also ripped the department’s guidance.

“So all you infected bus drivers, grocery store clerks, poultry processors — you didn’t get it at work,” Barab tweeted.

(Information from the Washington Post and Truthout.)



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