Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

Continue reading

“Quarantine Leave” Bill Exempts State Employees

By Steve Haner

Employees caught in this pandemic with no paid time off for health issues have been in a deep bind, and many of those with reasonable leave available have probably burned it all. It is one of several problems exacerbated by this government-led economic crash.

Congress, in a bipartisan response supported by President Donald Trump, created a temporary mandate in one of its early COVID-19 relief bills. It can provide as much as 12 weeks of paid leave (more here). Some in the Virginia General Assembly think that is not good enough.  Continue reading

Job Recovery Is Not the Special Session’s Focus

This building remains boarded up, and legislators are not there (except the House Speaker and Clerk, pantomiming a real session on Zoom.)

By Steve Haner

With the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session moving into its third week, it seems likely to impede rather than assist the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. It may also greatly expand COVID-19’s financial burdens in the years to come.

The highly publicized issues of unpaid rents and utility bills, threatening tens of thousands with choices between eviction, disconnection, or years of additional debt, are clearly related to un- and under-employment from the COVID-19 recession. But getting people back to work does not seem the top priority for legislators.

The original stated purposes for the session starting August 18 were to amend the state budget in response to the recession, and make other adjustments responding to the viral disease. Deadly confrontations between police and Black suspects in several American cities, and the violent response, added police and judicial reform issues to the agenda.  Continue reading

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

Voters Oppose Contracts That Protect Bad Cops

By Steve Haner

As yet another bitter conflict over a police officer’s use of deadly force divides America, this time a case in Wisconsin, Virginia’s General Assembly forges ahead with opening up the state to the police unions that usually rush to protect their members from discipline or dismissal.

The Kenosha Professional Police Association was quick with its call for everybody to step back and let that investigation proceed. That is a fairly balanced statement, but then it put out a statement defending the officers’ behavior that ended with an entire clip emptied into somebody’s back.  Unions advocate for their members.

Among all the bills introduced in the General Assembly’s special session response to these cases are a handful seeking to prevent some of the worst problems seen when unions stand up for bad cops. One is already defeated, but two are languishing in a House committee, where they may or may not be heard. All three have Republican sponsors.

A poll conducted for the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy two weeks ago indicates they would have public and bipartisan support. The poll over-sampled Black Virginians, to be sure enough were called to give credence to that cross tabulation. Their support was in line with all Virginians.

To be specific:

Continue reading

UVa Grad Students Want to Unionize

by James A. Bacon

A group of University of Virginia employees comprised mainly of graduate students want to form a union, reports the Daily Progress. If successful, the workers would be affiliated with the Campus Workers of America.

UVa last year committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, so economic issues don’t appear to be at the top of the list. The unionists’ main concern at the moment is safety and health during the COVID-19 virus as students return to the grounds.

“With students coming in, everybody is worried about getting coronavirus,” said Evan Brown, a biology department doctoral student and member of the union steering committee. The group “demands” that the University abandon its hybrid in-person/remote learning model for the fall and cancel undergraduate move-in, according to a statement released two days ago.

But the demands of United Campus Workers-Virginia members extend beyond working conditions. The union also admonishes the administration “to end its relationship with Charlottesville police and cut funding for its own police department as part of its stated mission to address pervasive racial inequality at the University.” Continue reading

COVID Workers Comp On House Democrat Bill List

By Steve Haner

The coming Special Session of the General Assembly will be narrowly focused but filled with controversy, based on the legislative wish list just released by House of Delegates Democrats. Only two bills listed fall outside of the major categories of “COVID-19 Relief” or “Criminal Justice and Police Reform.”

Under the heading “COVID Relief,” the Democrats wish to reopen their drive for employee paid leave and. as predicted. want to designate COVID-19 as a workplace disease.

The Senate Democrats have their own list, released in June and reiterated in a more recent news release. The release claims that one of the bills is ready for public viewing, but provides no link and the bill mentioned is not yet available through Legislative Information Services. Neither caucus has yet revealed any thoughts on how to amend the state budget, a task where Governor Ralph Northam naturally takes the lead.

Here is the list from the House Democratic Caucus, with some thoughts following:

COVID-19 Relief:

  • Requiring businesses to grant paid sick leave for Virginia workers.
  • Prohibiting garnishments of stimulus relief checks. (Office of Attorney General bill)
  • Establishing a presumption of workers’ compensation for first responders, teachers, and other high-risk essential workers.
  • Providing immunity from civil claims related to COVID-19 for complying with health guidance.
  • Combating price gouging for Personal Protective Equipment. (Office of Attorney General bill)
  • Protecting Virginians from eviction during a public health emergency.
  • Creating a Commonwealth Marketplace for PPE Acquisition.
  • Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.

Continue reading

BE HEARD Act Could Cripple Virginia Small Businesses

How about a law banning government harassment and hostile business climates?

by Hans Bader

Small businesses in Virginia could face a very different business climate next year due to Joe Biden’s support for laws like the BE HEARD Act. It could easily become law if Democrats take control of Congress and the presidency (as most pollsters expect).

Under the BE HEARD Act, even the tiniest employers with only one or two employees will face unlimited liability in lawsuits, for things like discrimination, or harassment committed by an employee. It would also redefine sexual harassment in an overly broad and confusing way that could lead to small businesses being liable for trivial acts or comments by an employee. These small businesses would also be liable for attorneys fees that could dwarf what they end up paying workers who sue them.

Right now, small businesses in Virginia aren’t covered by most federal discrimination laws like Title VII, unless they have at least 15 employees. This doesn’t mean they can get away with being racist. If they intentionally discriminate based on race, they can be sued under a federal race discrimination law that covers even the smallest employers, 42 U.S.C. 1981. And if they fire someone for a non-race-based reason — such as their sex, age, or religion — they can be sued under Virginia state law, if they have more than five employees (although punitive damages in such lawsuits are limited to $350,000.) Continue reading

School Teachers Get Virus? Too Damned Bad!

By Peter Galuszka

Here at Bacons Rebellion, a favorite blood sport of late has been tearing apart school teachers by ripping up their “values,” their personal courage, their honesty, their intellects and their mindless lapdog following of their commissars at teachers’ unions

The same is true for college professors and administrators (Golly Darn, Reed Fawell just discovered the 1960s!”)

The issue is a deadly one, the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far killed more Americans – twice more U.S. military in fact – than were killed in the Vietnam War. Today, there is an understandably complicated and confusing exercise that will try to come up with the safest ways to go back to school.

I won’t get into that because I am no expert, but I cringe when I read the likes of Kerry Dougherty and James A. Bacon Jr. in their endless attacks on the teaching profession.

She opines: “Odds that elected representatives will have the courage to  stand up to the teachers and reopen schools? Zero. It seems that some teachers want guarantees that there is no risk. Preposterous. There can never be a risk free environment.” Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Pigskins, COVID, Unemployment

Hail the to Pigskins. The football team formerly known as the Washington Redskins has punted on adopting a new permanent name this season, and will refer to itself for the time being as the Washington Football Team. The pause allows the team to “undertake an in-depth branding process” that incorporates player, alumni, fan, community and sponsor input. the team announced. What a cop-out. I’m still holding out hope for the team to rename itself the Washington Pigskins.

COVID risk metrics for school districts. The Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education are collaborating on a new COVID-19 dashboard to guide local education officials when deciding how to reopen schools this fall. The dashboard likely will include eight to 10 local metrics such as confirmed cases, percent-positive rates on tests, hospitalizations, and the number of local emergency room visits for COVID-19-like illnesses. School divisions will be flagged, red, yellow and green to indicate whether they should reopen, adopt a hybrid model, or adopt a distance-learning model, reports the Prince William Times.

One suggestion: The dashboard should include the number of people testing positive in the age ranges corresponding to elementary, middle, and high school.  Given the different risk profiles for younger and older children, it makes no sense to impose a uniform policy. School boards might consider keeping elementary schools open while going online with high schools.

Economic health metrics. Meanwhile, another 37,946 Virginians have filed for unemployment claims, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. That’s up 17.5% from the previous week. All told, more than one million Virginians have filed for unemployment benefits for the first time since March. “Virginia’s preliminary weekly change — up 7,896 on a seasonally adjusted basis — was the largest increase among the states,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

How Employers Must Prevent COVID, Or Else

Virginia Department of Labor and Industry

By Steve Haner

The first thing every employer in Virginia needs to understand about the state’s new COVID-19 temporary workplace standard (here) is it is universal. It applies to every workplace, public and private, for-profit and non-profit, with 10,000 workers or two. The rules are the same, “one size fits all,” without regard to the nature of the industry.

The second thing every employer in Virginia needs to understand about the standard is that it is only temporarily temporary. The goal, and work will begin quickly, is to convert the set of requirements into a permanent regulation, with a permanent burden on employers going forward to protect their employees from a disease circulating widely outside their establishments.  Continue reading

COVID Workplace Rules Endorsed, But Not Final

The Northam Administration’s Safety and Health Codes Board agreed yesterday that COVID-19 in the state’s workplaces demands an emergency state response, but the nature and exact wording of that regulation remains undecided.  If adopted, formal regulations come with the potential for heavy penalties for employers cited for failures.

Earlier versions of the key documents have already been revised by state staff, so should be reviewed again by concerned parties. The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) were first made available June 12 and then revised June 23, right before Wednesday’s meeting. Further changes are likely.

A window for on-line written comments closed June 22, but more than three thousand were received, with the business community reaction overwhelmingly negative. To review the written comments already filed visit the meeting information page (here) and scroll down to a long list of documents. The massive set of online comments are on this related page on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website.

The vote to proceed with something came after a contentious virtual emergency meeting where only members of the board and staff were able to speak. Three of the board’s members opposed the emergency declaration and three abstained, perhaps reflecting the broad and strong opposition the draft proposal generated from Virginia’s busines community. It will meet again to dive into the actual text soon.  Continue reading

COVID Regs Unclear, Unneeded, Contradictory

By Steve Haner

More than two dozen Virginia business associations have asked that the state’s Safety and Health Codes Board reject proposed workplace regulations to prevent COVID-19, stating they are unclear, contradictory, and not needed in light of other existing worker protections.

Some of the largest statewide associations, such as the Virginia Manufacturers Association, National Federation of Independent Business, and Virginia Retail Federation are on the list. So are some regional chambers of commerce and the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. You can read their 13-page submission here. The conclusion reads:

“It is unreasonable to apply “one size fits all” COVID-19 regulations to all employers and employees.  Codifying guidance is not a reasonable replacement for regulation. It is confusing why after three months, the Regulations are being pursued through an emergency procedure, especially after OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rejected the AFL-CIO’s petition for an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied their petition for a writ of mandamus to compel OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for Infectious Diseases.”

The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) have only been available since June 12. The public comment period closes tonight, and the board is set to meet Wednesday, in a format where the public can only watch. More details are provided in a Bacon’s Rebellion post from this weekend.

Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Sweeping COVID Workplace Regulation Proposed

By Steve Haner

The Northam Administration’s Safety and Health Codes Board will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday –- in a virtual process allowing no public interactions – to impose sweeping new regulatory mandates related to COVID-19 on Virginia workplaces.

They could take effect immediately upon Governor Ralph Northam’s signature, and will not disappear if an end is declared to the current emergencies or the threat of the disease dissipates.

The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) have only been available since June 12. The window for on-line written comments closes Monday evening. The affected businesses have had some advance warning because union and employee activists have been pushing similar proposals in other states and at the federal level, often without success.

The stated goal is to prevent spread of disease in work spaces, and screening, sanitation, face coverings and social distancing are directed in detail. The focus on workplace safety follows COVID-19 outbreaks in food processing and health care settings. These proposals, however, will reach into every Virginia retail, office or manufacturing space.

To review the comments already filed (776 as of Saturday morning), or to add your own, visit the related page on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website. The deadline for filing is Monday night at 11:59 p.m. The chances that the comments will be assessed and studied before the votes take place on Wednesday are slim and it appears, so far, much of the debate is focused on mask mandates. That is a minor part of this quite broad proposal.  Continue reading