The OSHA Act was signed by President Nixon in 1970. Both its language and its legislative history make it clear that Congress authorized OSHA to protect workers from all manner of workplace health and safety threats. The Act also acknowledges that OSHA scientists possess the expertise to determine when the agency must step in to protect workers.
No matter. The Supreme Court majority, whose knowledge of science is no better than yours and mine, has interposed its own flawed, non-scientific judgment to reach a misguided decision that will do great harm. This is, sadly, consistent with one of its recent equally irrational decisions to the effect that Covid-19 takes a rest on weekends and does not spread in churches, synagogues, mosques and Sunday schools.
The Supreme Court’s right-wing majority was afraid to put their names on this disastrous decision, instead issuing a Per Curiam opinion so that no individual justice had to admit authorship. How lame.
Its opinion says that OSHA is limited to regulating “work-related dangers” and then claims that Covid-19 doesn’t fit that definition because it is a broader, virtually universal public health risk. What this perverse assertion proclaims is that OSHA has no authority because the danger transcends the workplace. Unbelievable!
Tell that to the 84 million Americans who would have been covered by the vaccine mandate, individuals who must show up at work in order to feed and shelter their families, and do so with trepidation for fear of the virus.
The dissent points out the absurdity of the majority’s argument: “…the Court argues that OSHA cannot keep workplaces safe from COVID–19 because the agency (as it readily acknowledges) has no power to address the disease outside the work setting.”
To arrive at its calamitous decision, the Court majority had to invent an unstated legislative intent to limit “work-related dangers” to those that can only happen on the job. That’s akin to saying that OSHA cannot regulate to prevent a crane falling on a worker on a construction site because a crane could fall on a pedestrian passing by. Or that OSHA cannot regulate fire hazards in the workplace because fires can occur anywhere!
The Court’s reactionaries ignored the 52-year history of OSHA regulation that covers all sorts of health and safety risks that occur at work, but could also occur at home, in school, or anywhere else where people congregate.
The bottom line, of course, is that OSHA has a five-decade history of addressing risks that impact the workplace even if they could also arise outside of it.
The danger of this Trumpian ruling is that it could be invoked in future cases to decimate Congress’ power to delegate authority and defer to agencies that have the expertise Congress does not possess.
In addition to the convoluted legal argument which the Court’s right-wing majority had to invent, it is clear that these public servants don’t care a whit for our health and safety. Ignoring the repercussions of a decision is the height of irresponsibility.
January 22, 2022