By DON THOMPSON – Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Workplace regulators are set on Thursday to extend California’s coronavirus pandemic regulations until next year with a few revisions that business groups say could worsen the shortage of workforce.
The main change to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised temporary rule is that it would erase the current distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees.
Both would be excluded from the workplace if they come into close contact with someone infected with the virus.
the revised temporary rules would require exposed, vaccinated but asymptomatic workers to stay home for 14 days even if they are negative or, if returning to work, wear masks and stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) from other people for these two weeks.
âTreating vaccinated and unvaccinated people the same really negates the scientific value of the vaccine and discourages vaccination,â said Rob Moutrie, a policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce.
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The council’s review comes a day after California reinstated the requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, including the omicron variant, as families and friends gather over the holidays and as new cases of coronavirus increase.
Under current workplace rules, vaccinated employees can continue to work even if they have been exposed, unless they show symptoms, assuming the vaccine will generally protect them.
California was among many states that have adopted COVID-19 emergency workplace safety measures, including Michigan, Oregon and Virginia.
The Biden administration has ordered all U.S. employers with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated, test regularly or wear masks on the job from Jan.4, but the order is stalled amid state court challenges Republican-led and employer fears that the rules would only add to the labor shortage.
Regulators were foolish to ease restrictions in June under pressure from employers and are smart to tighten them now, said Mitch Steiger, a legislative attorney for the California Labor Federation.
“It’s good that we realize that vaccines are not the silver bullet to get us out of this,” Steiger said. âThere is never a good time to start disarming against COVID-19. “
The chamber led a coalition of about 60 business groups arguing in a letter to the board that vaccinations are still largely effective and generally prevent serious illness and death, even with major infections.
A planned change that would require testing even on vaccinated workers without symptoms could also strain the availability of rapid tests and increase costs for employers, the groups said, which include agribusiness, retailers, builders. of homes, restaurateurs and manufacturers, as well as cities and counties.
The tougher guarantees “will only worsen the current labor shortage plaguing California workplaces,” Moutrie predicted. In addition, reestablishing per capita social distancing is simply not achievable in many workplaces “which would have to physically move workstations or equipment.
The rules apply to almost all workplaces in the state, including workers in offices, factories and retail businesses.
The Motion Picture Association said warranties are not achievable for those who shoot movies, TV shows or commercials because “employees who work in front of the camera cannot be required to wear face coverings” and those who shoot who do their hair and make-up “cannot perform their professional duties”. while maintaining six feet of distance from other employees.
The Cal / OSHA Board of Directors has complied with its current regulations general state standards imposed by Governor Gavin Newsom in June only after weeks of intrigue in which he first postponed, then rejected, then passed, then repealed previously proposed rules that would have conflicted with Newsom’s broader directive.
Union interests have generally not opposed the latest changes, which would be in effect from January 14 to April 14.
But they are upset that others proposed rules being considered in March would eliminate employer-paid sick leave for employees who are exposed or contract the virus.
The aim was to allow low-wage workers without sick leave to take time off rather than come to work and spread the virus because they couldn’t afford to stay at home.
If the proposed elimination is maintained, “workers will be forced to make the impossible decision to go to work while sick or stay home without pay,” Stephen Knight, executive director of the workers’ advocacy group. Safe working said in a online petition to the Cal / OSHA Standards Council.
Labor advocates could also work as part of the state, legislature and governor’s budget process to maintain the agenda, but prefer to keep the existing requirement, Knight and Steiger said.
The board of directors is separately hosting a panel discussion on how it should handle future pandemic regulations on Thursday, following a proposal last month from the Western Steel Council.
The council suggested in a letter to the board that the whole regulatory process has become so complicated and the pandemic ever-evolving that the board should stop trying to make its own rules in the workplace.
Better, he says, to just ask companies to follow the evolving guidelines of the California Department of Public Health.
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