Friday May 20, 2022

Safety rules

January 18, 2022

By a 6 to 3 vote, with liberal justices in dissent, the Supreme Court yesterday from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers. (The court upheld a more modest mandate requiring vaccinations for health care workers who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients.)

The employer mandate would have required workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to wear masks and be tested weekly (neither employees nor employers were required to pay for the testing). It would have applied to employers with at least 100 employees – applying to more than 84 million workers, about two-thirds of the American workforce.

The administration estimated the rule would cause 22 million people to get vaccinated and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations.

In its unsigned order blocking the rule – which had been devised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – the court said that although the risks associated with coronavirus occur in many workplaces, “it is not an occupational hazard in most.”

Hello? Not an occupational hazard? Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we’ve seen factories, wholesale distribution centers, meatpackers, and hospitals become super-spreader centers. The Omicron variant is now ripping through America like wildfire, especially where people work in close contact.

Before yesterday’s ruling, a three-judge panel of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals had decided that the OSHA rule was “an important step in curtailing the transmission of a deadly virus that has killed over 800,000 people in the United States, brought our health care system to its knees, and cost hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs.”

Judge Jane B. Stranch, writing for the majority of the Court of Appeals, had noted that “Covid-19 has continued to spread, mutate, kill and block the safe return of American workers to their jobs [and that] to protect workers, OSHA can and must be able to respond to dangers as they evolve.”

But yesterday the high court disagreed – choosing instead to treat Covid like any a ‘universal risk’ of daily life that people voluntarily choose to accept. “Covid-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases,” the court said.

This is absurd on its face. People have choices of where or whether to gather when it comes to social events, sporting events, or travel. They can decide how much risk to take on from all sorts of day-to-day activities. The workplace is different. If they want a paycheck, most people must report to work.

Excerpted: ‘The Right-Wing Supreme Court’s Appalling Decision on Covid Safety Rules’