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Biden Picks California’s Doug Parker to Lead Federal OSHA (1)

April 9, 2021, 7:08 PMUpdated: April 9, 2021, 10:22 PM

The Biden administration intends to nominate California official Doug Parker to lead OSHA as the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, the White House said.

Parker is currently chief of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA, where he played a lead role in developing the state’s Covid-19 workplace safety rule.

If confirmed, Parker would be the first Senate-approved chief of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration since January 2017, when David Michaels stepped down at the close of Barack Obama’s presidency.

A former member of the Obama administration who served on the Biden transition team for the U.S. Labor Department, Parker now will try to get senators to support him for a role that would present many of the same challenges he’s faced in California, only on a much larger scale. Most prominent among those is to protect workers from Covid-19 infection—an OSHA emergency rulemaking is in a holding pattern—while continuing to enforce longtime safety regulations, such as those preventing falls at construction sites and guarding factory workers from machine-induced injury.

“I am honored to be nominated to lead OSHA during this critical time,” Parker said in a statement Friday following the White House announcement. “If confirmed, I look forward to working with Secretary Walsh and his team to advance safe, healthful and just working conditions for all workers in this country.”

California’s Covid-19 Standard

Parker helped shepherd the writing and adoption in 2020 of Cal/OSHA’s emergency Covid-19 standard, a regulation that has so far withstood court challenges from California industry groups.

“I imagine, he’ll have plenty to say in what a federal regulation will look like,” said California employer-side attorney Fred Walter of Conn Maciel Carey LLP in San Francisco.

Walter said Parker was a good choice and has the credentials to lead federal OSHA.

“He was approachable. He would listen. He wouldn’t agree,” Walter said, recounting meetings with Parker.

Mara Ortenburger, director of communications and research for Worksafe Inc., a California worker advocacy group, praised Parker’s tenure at Cal/OSHA and his role in enacting the state Covid-19 standard.

“Doug understood the need for this emergency rulemaking and was supportive of the process from the beginning,” she said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pointed to Parker’s work at the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration, where he was deputy assistant secretary for policy, and also his time as an attorney for the United Mine Workers of America.

“He has dedicated his life to advancing the cause of worker safety, because he understands this is a life-and-death struggle for working people in every industry and in every corner of the country,” Trumka said, adding that “critical work must begin with a long-overdue emergency temporary standard to protect America’s workers from a still-raging pandemic.”

Parker left MSHA in 2015 and in 2016 became executive director of Worksafe in Oakland, Calif., where his work included a review of the safety record of Tesla Inc.'s automobile plant in Fremont and advocating for protections against wildfire smoke and heat stress.

He led Worksafe for three years before joining Cal/OSHA in 2019, a role for which he was nominated by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in August of that year.

Cal/OSHA is the largest of the 22 state agencies that oversee private-industry worker safety and health. While there, he worked with California Labor Secretary Julie Su, Biden’s nominee to be DOL’s deputy secretary.

Federal OSHA and Cal/OSHA have had their differences. The state agency has yet to adopt federal OSHA’s 2013 fall protection mandates for residential construction.

The Biden administration has installed other political appointees at OSHA already, including the job of principal deputy assistant secretary, held since Jan. 20 by Jim Frederick, a former United Steelworkers safety official.

Former President Donald Trump nominated FedEx Ground safety boss Scott Mugno in October 2017 to lead the agency, but after two favorable committee hearings the full Senate failed to vote on Mugno’s confirmation and he withdrew in May 2019. Trump didn’t nominate a replacement.

(Updated with new details throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

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