This photograph was taken on June 23, when Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia (he’s the bald guy in the center) visited the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce. Scalia tweeted this picture out and said, “I had a great conversation today with business leaders at the @DRC. We are reopening, and it’s impressive to see business leaders so focused on reopening safely.”
“I’m pleased at how seriously employers, including local business leaders I met with today, are taking the safety and health of their employees,” Scalia said in a press release. “Workplace safety must be a top priority for a successful reopening.”
But a few days later David Michaels, who under President Barack Obama was administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is a sub-agency of the Labor Department, pointed out on Twitter that there’s something wrong with this picture. Can you guess what it is? I bet you can!
Not a single one of these people, including Scalia, is wearing a mask. The Dallas Morning News reported the day before Scalia’s visit that Covid hospitalizations were rising and a larger proportion of Covid tests were coming back positive. Indeed, Texas is one of the states where new Covid cases are rising the fastest.
OSHA has advised employers that they should ensure that “workers wear appropriate face coverings, such as cloth face masks, to contain respiratory secretions.” OSHA maintains that such “guidance” is sufficient, and that it is not necessary to go further and issue an “emergency temporary standard” that would have the force of law. (I wrote about this last month in the New Republic.)
But as Michaels points out,
OSHA and CDC recommendations for workplace distancing and PPE [i.e., masks] are only suggestions, easily ignored with no legal consequences. Even the Department of Labor ignores its own guidance.
Actually, it’s worse than that. Even the Department of Labor ignores its own guidance in its own public relations materials. It isn’t merely that DOL isn’t taking seriously the safety precautions that it recommends to others; it’s that it doesn’t mind letting you know that it doesn’t take them seriously, even when visiting a Covid hotspot like Dallas. And that it doesn’t mind that the “business leaders” with whom Scalia posed in this photograph don’t take those precautions seriously, either.