#childsafety | US Federal Labor Viewpoints – Week Of January 3, 2022 – Employment and HR

This is a weekly post spotlighting labor topics in focus by the
US legislative and executive branches during the previous week.

In this issue, we cover:

  • December Jobs Report

  • Federal Vaccine Mandate Legal Challenges Update

  • COVID-19 Updates

  • Notable Labor Department Developments

The second session of the 117th U.S. Congress reconvened earlier
this week. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) told reporters on
Tuesday that there have been no negotiations related to the
Build Back Better Act (BBBA), President Joe Biden’s
social spending and climate bill, since talks ended abruptly before
the holidays. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has
reiterated his intention to hold a vote in the Senate on the BBBA.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the President
“absolutely wants to get Build Back Better done,” saying
that President Biden and senior White House officials would keep
talking with Senators “in the weeks ahead.”

Democratic lawmakers are focused in the near-term on election
reform, following the anniversary of the January 6 breach of the
U.S. Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Schumer said that he plans to
schedule debate on changing the Senate’s filibuster rules by
Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 17), if Republicans continue to
block voting rights legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives
had a District Work Period this week.

December Jobs Report. On Friday, the U.S.
Department of Labor released its December Jobs Report, which reflected the
economy added 199,000 jobs, far short of the anticipated 422,000
jobs. The unemployment rate in December was down to 3.9 percent
from 4.2 percent in November. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Labor
Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey reflected
4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November. With the Omicron
COVID-19 variant surging, labor market experts anticipate more
volatility this month, as the variant effects school re-openings,
corporate return-to-office plans, large events and other benchmarks
of economic normalcy.

Federal Vaccine Mandate Legal Challenges
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments
on the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision to lift the Fifth
Circuit’s stay of the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine or test Emergency Temporary
Standard (ETS). The Court also heard oral arguments on a stay of
the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Vaccine
Mandate for health care workers that participate in the Medicare
and Medicaid government programs. Early media coverage of the arguments against the
OSHA ETS before the Supreme Court reflected they ranged from
Federal overreach to not every workplace being high risk for
COVID-19 exposures and therefore should not be subject to a
regularly testing or vaccine mandate.

A Federal Judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday that
effectively granted more than 30 Navy special operators the first
religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine. U.S. District Judge
Reed O’Connor found that, “the COVID-19 pandemic provides
the government no license to abrogate” the freedom to refuse
the vaccine on religious grounds. Despite having received 2,877
requests from active-duty sailors to be exempt from the vaccine
mandate on religious grounds, as of Tuesday, the Navy had yet to
approve any religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine. Judge
O’Connor rebuked the service, noting:

The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in
recent memory. It merely rubber stamps each denial. The Navy
service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms
they have sacrificed so much to protect.”

COVID-19 Updates. President Biden remains
focused on COVID-19, particularly as the Omicron variant now
dominates most infections in America. On January 3, the United
States topped one million in new coronavirus cases, averaging about
550,000 newly reported infections per day over last week. The U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that same
day that the Omicron COVID-19 variant now represents nearly every
cases sequenced in the United States. The once-dominant Delta
variant is now only 4.6 percent of sequenced cases.

On January 4, President Biden provided an update on Federal efforts to
address the surge of Omicron cases, acknowledging the lingering
challenges associated with COVID-19 testing capabilities. He urged
schools to stay open, as they returned to session after the holiday
break. Pfizer Inc. shared that same day that the U.S. Government
had agreed to buy an additional 10 million doses of its antiviral
pill, Paxlovid, doubling the original order of 10 million doses to
20 million doses.

Due to Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) concerns over COVID-19
safety protocols, Chicago schools have yet to return to session in
Illinois. The CTU voted Tuesday to conduct remote instruction until
extra COVID-19 safety measures are in place, striking against
in-person teaching. However, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot locked
instructors out of remote-learning, which led to the school
district canceling classes for a third day in a row on Friday. The
CTU argues that members have a right to refuse “hazardous work
assignments;” it is seeking a requirement that all students
present a negative COVID test before returning to in-person
learning. Regarding the strike in Chicago, White House Press
Secretary Jen Psaki affirmed on Wednesday that the President wants
schools open, reminding of the negative effect on children’s
mental health and learning gaps that can result.

On January 3, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization (EUA)
for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to:

  • Expand the use of a single booster dose to include use in
    children 12 through 15 years of age;

  • Shorten the time between the completion of primary vaccination
    of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and a booster dose to at
    least five months; and

  • Allow for a third primary series dose for certain
    immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years of age.

On January 5, the CDC endorsed COVID-19 booster shots for
children 12 to 15 years old. That same day, the CDC updated its COVID-19 vaccine guidance, saying
it recommends,

[P]eople remain up to date with their vaccines, which includes
additional doses for individuals who are immunocompromised or
booster doses at regular time points.”

While completing a primary series of a particular vaccine means
most individuals are deemed “fully vaccinated,” the CDC
change means individuals are “up to date” only if they
have received their booster(s) doses.

On December 31, U.S.-based Novavax submitted its final clinical data packages
with the FDA to satisfy the requirements for seeking EUA for its
COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA’s EUA process typically takes a

Next week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
(HELP) Committee is set to hold a hearing titled, “Addressing
New Variants: A Federal Perspective on the COVID-19 Response.”
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious and White House Chief
Medical Advisor, are among those scheduled to testify before the
panel on January 11.

On January 3, Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Ranking
Member of the Senate HELP Committee, and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri),
Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor,
Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, sent a letter urging Health and Human Services
Secretary Xavier Becerra to detail the Biden Administration’s
strategy for solving the nation’s shortage of COVID-19 tests
amid the Omicron surge. The Senators noted the nation is facing a
shortage of COVID-19 tests despite Congress having provided more
than $80 billion over the last two years for the Administration to
improve and expand testing related capabilities.

Notable Labor Department Developments. This
week, OSHA and the Consulate General of Mexico in Kansas City renewed an alliance – first signed in 2013 – to
continue their collaborative relationship to promote workplace
safety and health with the consulate and Mexican nationals working
in Kansas and Missouri. On January 4, the Labor Department granted $14 million in cooperative agreements
to support a broad set of actions by two projects intended to
combat child labor, forced labor and human trafficking.

On January 6, the Department of Labor and the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) announced that the Wage and Hour Division
(WHD) and the NLRB signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) strengthening
their partnership and outlining procedures on information-sharing,
joint investigations and enforcement activity, as well as training,
education and community outreach. Regarding the new MOU, House
Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx
(R-North Carolina) issued the following statement:

Allowing the WHD and the NLRB to join forces will create a
perfect storm for businesses still struggling to recover from this
pandemic. . This agreement is part of the Biden
administration’s unionization push. Once again, this
administration is proving that it will always put Big Labor and
union bosses above workers and American business owners.”

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