For the first time since Dr. David Michaels exited the OSHA’s Assistant Secretary’s Office in January 2017, a short 1747 days ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary to head the agency: Douglas Parker.
And to quote someone who knows a few things because he’s seen a few things:
“I’m very excited,” Jordan Barab, OSHA deputy assistant secretary from 2009 to 2017, told Government Executive on Monday. “Doug will be a strong advocate for worker safety and health, and he has the experience and expertise to lead OSHA through these challenging times.”
Parker, who currently heads CalOSHA, was confirmed by the Senate this evening in a by 50-41 vote. Parker was Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration. Prior to taking the reins at CalOSHA, Parker was the executive director of Worksafe – a workplace safety-related legal services provider in Oakland, CA. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary of policy and a senior policy advisor at the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration, and served as a staff attorney for the United Mine Workers of America. He also worked for a law firm that represented major national unions.
In other words, Parker fits right in the Biden administration that calls itself the most pro-union administration ever.
This is the first time in 4 years and 9 months that OSHA has a Senate Confirmed Assistant Secretary.
Parker’s nomination was announced by President Biden on April 9 and his Senate confirmation hearing was held on May 27 where Parker strongly defended federal OSHA’s plans to issue a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard as well as the CalOSHA’s COVID-19 worker protection standard criticism from Republican Senators. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) accused Parker of ignoring harsh criticism from the notoriously liberal National Public Radio which had allegedly accused CalOSHA of issuing an arbitrary and capricious COVID-19 worker protection standard that ignored the evidence. Burr apparently didn’t realize that he wasn’t quoting an NPR editorial, but rather a summary of an industry lawsuit against the standard and not an NPR editorial. (I blame poor staff work.)
Burr also tried to get Parker to agree that he would not be influenced by any labor unions when working on OSHA COVID standards. Parker assured him that he would receive input from all stakeholders equally. Burr, apparently deciding that evenhandedness wasn’t good enough, warned Parker that “If in fact those who have interest in this one way or another, are influencing that decision, that would not be looked at kindly by this committee.”
Meanwhile, Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) asked Parker if he would retract CalOSHA’s standard now that vaccines were available. Marshall alleged that having an OSHA standard was sending a message that vaccines weren’t working. Parker declined and endorsed federal OSHA’s efforts to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard.
Parker was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on June 16. All 11 Democrats voted to approve. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) were the only Republicans who voted to confirm.
Parker will assume the reins at OSHA from Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick who has been serving as Acting Assistant Secretary since the beginning of the Biden administration.
This is the first time in 4 years and 9 months that OSHA has a Senate Confirmed Assistant Secretary — by far the longest time in OSHA’s history without a Senate-confirmed leader. The position remained empty during the entire Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump nominated Scott Mugno for assistant secretary of labor in October 2017, but Mugno withdrew from consideration in May 2019 after waiting 19 months for the Senate to confirm him. Loren Sweatt served as Deputy Assistant Secretary (and Acting Assistant Secretary ) for OSHA from July 2017 until the end of the Trump administration.