Category Archives: Labor & workforce

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

The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

How COVID-19 Demographics Can Inform Public Policy

Click for larger image

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19 virus, we have been told repeatedly strikes all ages. That statement is true, but also misleading. If one crunches the numbers from the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, there is no avoiding the conclusion that COVID-19 is a serious disease primarily for the middle-aged and elderly, and it kills mainly the elderly.

In the chart above, the blue bar breaks down each age bracket by the percentage it comprises of Virginia’s 8.5 million inhabitants. The green bar breaks down the percentage of confirmed COVID-19 patients in each age bracket. The yellow bar shows the percentage of hospitalizations in each bracket, and the orange bar the percentage of deaths.

A tiny percentage of Virginians under 20 years old have tested positive for COVID-19. If they do get it, their symptoms are rarely serious, and they are hardly ever hospitalized. Not one Virginian under the age of 20 has died from the virus. Continue reading

Why Northam Is Such An Important Governor

By Peter Galuszka

This is a bit like throwing chum at a school of sharks, but here is my latest in Style Weekly.

I wrote an assessment of Gov. Ralph Northam that is overall, quite positive. My take goes against much of the sentiment of other contributors on this blog.

They are entitled to their views but, to be honest, I find some of the essays shrill and not really fact based. If Northam wants to delay elective surgeries at hospitals for a week or so, some want to empanel a grand jury.

An acute care health facility in Henrico County becomes one of the most notorious hot spots for coronavirus deaths and it is immediately Northam’s fault even though the care center has had serious problems that long predated the governor’s term in office.

He’s a trained physician who served as an Army doctor in combat during the Iraq War yet he is vilified as being incompetent and incapable of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s like the constant repetition of the “Sins of Hillary” on Breitbart and Fox News about emails and Benghazi.

Like him or not, Northam is bound to be one of the most consequential governors in Virginia history given the gigantic problem of the pandemic. He’s not a showboat salesman like Terry McAuliffe nor a smarmy, small-time crook like Robert F. McDonnell.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

The Revolution Has Been Postponed, Not Canceled

by Steve Haner

The revolution has merely been postponed, not cancelled.

Governor Ralph Northam has asked the General Assembly to put off until May 1, 2021, the implementation of several key pro-union changes in Virginia’s labor and employment laws, including a 31% increase in the minimum wage.

Saturday, April 11, was the deadline for Northam’s consideration of the 2020 General Assembly’s output. He had to choose whether to sign, veto or propose amendments to hundreds of successful bills. The amendments he proposed will be put to a vote in the General Assembly reconvened session on April 22.

Will enough legislators of his own Democratic Party join him in disappointing the key constituency of the Democratic Party? Union leaders expressed their fury in the wake of his announcements, so that battle is joined. In the meantime, do not ignore the dozens of other bills which were signed which also damage the business climate in Virginia going forward.

When you see all of the “pro-worker” legislation signed and touted by the Governor in one combined list, it is crystal clear that liberal Democrats (and there appears to be few centrist Democrats left) believe many Virginia employers were refusing to pay, misclassifying, punishing, discriminating against or otherwise abusing workers until the new Democratic majority came along to offer salvation. Continue reading

Upper Big Branch: Ten Years After

By Peter Galuszka

This week is the tenth anniversary of one of the worst coal mine disasters in recent U.S. history. The massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch at Montcoal, W.Va. on the afternoon of April 5, 2010 killed 29 miners, the largest number in 40 years.

The disaster meant the undoing of Massey Energy, a Richmond-based company that had been widely called out for its safety violations and mountain-top removal mining practices.

I wrote a book about the firm and Central Appalachian coal that was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012. West Virginia University Press bought paperback rights to the book and we published an expanded and updated version in 2016.

Today, I have a remembrance in today’s Washington Post. It will be in print this Sunday on the Local Opinions page in the Metro section.

For many years, Massey Energy and its predecessor firm, A.T. Massey, operated a headquarters in a chunky building in downtown Richmond. The Massey family has been generous with its local donations and has helped such institutions as the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The Massey family was notorious for breaking labor unions but during the two years it took to research the book, I learned that miners felt the firm listened to them and tried to take care of them.

Then a stocky man with a moustache, Don Blankenship, took over. He became notorious for skimping on safety and micro-managing. He served a year in federal prison for ignoring safety at UBB. Continue reading

Right Wing Uses Virus To Stifle Needed Reforms

Statue of Gov. Harry F. Byrd on the state capitol grounds.

By Peter Galuszka

Right-wingers in Virginia have been apoplectic for months that Democrats finally captured the General Assembly after years of Republican control.

They also were enraged that the legislature this winter passed a number of reforms that would draw Virginia into the 21st Century such raising the minimum wage, boosting collective bargaining, tightening rules on carbon pollution and raising taxes for cigarettes, a deadly product.

Now such conservatives are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to throttle or delay such needed reforms. They have banded into groups such as the Coalition fort a Strong Virginia Economy. They have used the Virginia Municipal League’s complaints against the reforms, claiming they cost too much, as a way to derail new measures.

According to the left-leaning blog site Blue Virginia, one of the more extreme advocates for scrambling changes is Dave LaRock, a far-right Republican delegate from Loudoun County. A pronounced gay-basher, LaRock wants to squelch all of the reforms made by the more progressive General Assembly. Continue reading

To Accelerate Economic Recovery, Delay These Laws

The worst possible time to demolish Virginia’s economy

by Chris Braunlich

Last week the Virginia Municipal League (VML), representing the Commonwealth’s city, town and county governments, urged Governor Ralph Northam to delay legislation imposing new costs and unfunded mandates on them. They argued that the economic recession and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic have made both prohibitive.

The VML is right. During the eight years I served on the Fairfax County School Board, my colleagues and I often stared slack-jawed at the willingness of both Republican and Democratic state leaders to impose new mandates and staffing requirements on localities while providing little or no funding. Our amazement and discontent was bipartisan.

But what needs to be done doesn’t stop at the VML’s recommendations alone, which were limited to items having an impact on local government functions. League Executive Director Michelle Gowdy correctly notes that local “revenue from commercial properties are at risk as small local businesses close down. Whether these companies can hang on until the Coronavirus runs its course is unknown.”

Those local businesses feed local governments with taxes and salaried employees who also pay taxes. If their cost to operate rises so high that they cannot continue, they die and take their local tax revenue with them. Continue reading

Latest COVID-19 Job Toll: 112,000 in Virginia Last Week

by James A. Bacon

The latest unemployment claims are in, and they’re brutal — more than twice the level in Virginia (and across the country) of last week, which was, by far, the worst week in the history of the United States. For the week ending March 28, the number of seasonably unadjusted initial claims was 112,497 — up from 46,277 the previous week.

The map from the Virginia Employment Commission website above shows the geographic distribution of unemployment claims. In raw numbers, the layoffs look worse in Virginia’s major metropolitan regions — Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. But it’s no surprise that the number of job losses will be highest in the most populous parts of the state. What the maps do not show is the job losses expressed as a percentage of the workforce. In that light, the jobs claims in the western part of Virginia (basically Lynchburg west) look dreadful.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has been surveying employers in the Fifth Federal Reserve district, which includes Virginia, since late February. The questionnaires asked how the spread of COVID-19 has impacted businesses, and how the businesses expected the virus to impact operations. Both questions show a marked deterioration in expectations between Feb. 27 and March 18. Continue reading

Virginia Should Issue Immunity Certificates

Yesterday I argued that Virginia should allocate a chunk of its COVID-19 helicopter dollars from the federal government to conduct widespread testing for the presence of coronavirus antibodies. If the antibodies are present, the person presumably is immune to the sickness and should be free to re-enter society and the workforce.

Turns out, the Germans are planning to do just that. The Telegraph reports that Germany plans to introduce coronavirus “immunity certificates.” Researchers plan to test 100,000 members of the public at a time and issue documentation to those who have overcome the virus.

Explains Gerard Krause, the epidemiologist leading the project: “Those who are immune can then be given a vaccination certificate that would, for example, allow them to be exempt from any (lockdown-related) restrictions on their work.”

After saving lives, the No. 1 priority of the Northam administration must be to expedite a return to economic normalcy. Public health authorities in Virginia should bend every effort to make immunity certificates a reality.

— JAB