President Biden Taps United Steelworkers Official for OSHA
February 5, 2021
As one of the first acts of his new administration, President Joe Biden appointed James Frederick, a Pittsburgh native, to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency tasked with regulating workplace and worker safety across the county.
Biden Selects James Frederick to Lead OSHA
Hours prior to being sworn in as president, Biden nominated Mr. Frederick to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Health and Safety, which leads OSHA. Mr. Frederick, 53, is known as a workplace safety advocate. Previously, Mr. Frederick spent more than two decades working for United Steelworkers in the union’s health, safety, and environmental department, ultimately leaving that post in 2019. Since then, Mr. Frederick has worked as a part-time consultant for a DC-based firm that advises companies in safety compliance.
While working with USW, Mr. Frederick served as the union’s principal investigator for health, safety, and environment. In his role. Mr. Frederick also testified before Congress and federal agencies regarding workplace safety, including topics such as workplace violence, hazard communication, and ergonomics.
Tom Conway, the USW’s international president, praised President Biden’s selection of Mr. Frederick, stating “There is no stronger advocate for worker safety in this country than Jim Frederick”.
Mr. Frederick must now be confirmed to his post by the U.S Senate, currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast a tie breaking vote. During President Donald Trump’s administration, the Senate failed to confirm a head to OSHA, with Loren Sweatt serving as acting administrator since 2017.
Early Actions by Biden Administration Signal Renewed Focus on Worker Safety During COVID-19 Pandemic
During the 2020 campaign, President Biden announced his intention to enact new federal regulations to protect essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the first full day of his administration, President Biden signed an executive order directing OSHA to consider implementing a temporary emergency standard that would require employers to provide certain protections during the COVID-19 pandemic, including adopting an exposure control plan, providing personal protective equipment, undertaking enhanced cleaning of workplaces, and providing job protection for workers who contract COVID-19. The executive order also calls on OSHA to “enforce worker health and safety requirements, targeting the worst violators.” Finally, the order also directs the agency to explore ways to protect workers who may not traditionally be protected by OSHA standards, including self-employed workers.
USW and other labor unions have pressed for such standards since the beginning of the pandemic, filing ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits to compel OSHA to adopt and enforce standards aimed at combating the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace. AFL-CIO president Ricahrd Trumka praised the executive order signed by President Biden as “overdue and desperately needed”, saying that the President was “clearly prioritizing strong COVID-19 protections for working people.” Business groups have opposed the implementation of workplace safety standards targeted at COVID-19, characterizing such standards as imposing unnecessary burdens on struggling businesses. Instead, business groups have sought to obtain Congressionally-mandated immunity or liability protections from COVID-19 lawsuits that such groups have deemed “frivolous”.
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