Senate confirms Biden pick to lead OSHA as vaccine rule nears

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The U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill, seen during sunset in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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  • Doug Parker was head of California's workplace safety agency
  • 50-41 Senate vote comes ahead of agency's COVID vaccine rule

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Monday voted along party lines to confirm California workplace safety chief Doug Parker to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), filling the post for the first time in more than four years.

The 50-41 vote comes as OSHA is poised to adopt a rule requiring larger companies to mandate that their workers get the COVID-19 vaccine or be tested regularly.

Parker is the first Senate-confirmed director at OSHA since early 2017, when Obama appointee David Michaels stepped down. Loren Sweatt, who was then appointed acting director, served in the role for the entirety of the Trump administration.

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Parker is a former workplace safety advocate and union lawyer who has headed California's Division of Occupational Safety (Cal/OSHA) since 2019. He could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden nominated Parker in April, shortly before OSHA adopted an emergency rule requiring employers in the healthcare industry to adopt pandemic workplace protections.

Under Parker's leadership, California was one of several states to adopt its own COVID-19 emergency worker safety standards.

OSHA had declined to do so during the Trump administration, drawing criticism from Democrats and worker advocates.

Jessica Martinez, the co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said it was critical for OSHA to have a permanent, Senate-confirmed chief as millions of workers continue to face the threat of COVID-19 on a daily basis.

"OSHA has taken important steps in the right direction this year,” Martinez said in a statement on Monday, but "much more work remains to be done to reduce risks and improve safety in our workplaces."

Before joining Cal/OSHA, Parker was the executive director of Worksafe, an Oakland-based nonprofit law firm that focuses on worker safety issues. During the Obama administration, Parker served as the deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Earlier in his career, Parker was a staff attorney for United Mine Workers of America and a partner at Washington D.C.-based Mooney Green Saindon Murphy & Welch, which represents unions.

He also previously worked in communications for the Democratic National Committee and was a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.