Brian Dake

OSHA Issues COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard

Earlier today, the OSHA issued a COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) which require employers with 100 or more employees (i.e., “covered employers”) to:

  • Ensure that their employees have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4, 2022. After that, all covered employers must ensure that any employees who have not received the necessary shots begin producing a verified negative test to their employer on at least a weekly basis, and they must remove from the workplace any employee who receives a positive COVID-19 test or is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed health care provider. The ETS does not require employers to provide or pay for tests. Employers may be required to pay for testing because of other laws or collective bargaining agreements.
  • Provide paid-time for their employees to get vaccinated and, if needed, sick leave to recover from side effects experienced that keep them from working.
  • Ensure that unvaccinated employees wear a face mask while in the workplace.

Employers are subject to requirements for reporting and recordkeeping that are spelled out in the detailed OSHA materials available here. While the testing requirement for unvaccinated workers will begin after January 4th, employers must be in compliance with all other requirements – such as providing paid-time for employees to get vaccinated and masking for unvaccinated workers – on December 5, 2021.

The Federal Reserve is About to Set its Post-Pandemic Policy Course

When the Federal Reserve adjourns its meeting Wednesday, it will be doing more than scaling down its economic aid. The central bank will be charting a course for its post-pandemic future. The process, know as “tapering,” probably will commence before November ends.

In doing so, the Fed will be stepping away from a historic level of support for the economy and into a new regime in which it will still be using its tools to a lesser degree.

Talk up the tapering too much, and investors will get nervous that interest rate hikes are coming. Soft-pedal the move too much, and the market could think the Fed is ignoring the inflation threat. There’s risk to both too much optimism and too much pessimism that the FOMC and Chairman Jerome Powell will have to avoid.

“There’s just a very wide range of possible outcomes. They need to be nimble and responsive,” said Bill English, a former senior Fed advisor and now a professor at the Yale School of Management. “I worry that the markets will think that they’re on a steady track to run purchases down and then begin raising rates when they may just not be. They may have to act more quickly, they may have to raise them more slowly.”

As things stand, the market is betting the first rate increase will come in June 2022, followed by at least one — and perhaps two — more before the year is out. In their most recent projections, FOMC members indicated a small likelihood of pulling the first hike into next year.

U.S. Reaches Deal with European Union over Steel and Aluminum Tariffs

The United States has agreed to reduce tariffs on EU steel in return for a relaxation of counter-tariffs on US products, both sides said.

The European Union and the United States have reached an agreement to rein in tit-for-tat tariffs that date back to the Trump administration, officials announced on Saturday.

More European-made steel will enter the United States while the EU will tax motorcycles, bourbon whiskey, peanut butter and jeans at only 25% instead of a proposed 50%.

The agreement would make sure “that all steel entering the US via Europe is produced entirely in Europe,” US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo added. This would stop Chinese subsidized steel being processed in Europe before being sent to the US.

While US officials did not say how much steel would be imported from the EU, sources told Reuters news agency that annual volumes above 3.3 million tons would be subject to tariffs.

New DOL Rules Set Limits on Amount of Non-Tipped Worked Tipped Employees Can Do When Tip Credit Applied

On Thursday, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced a final rule that sets reasonable limits on the amount of time tipped employees can spend in non-tipped activities when the employer receives a tip credit. The rule clarifies that an employer may only take a tip credit for the hours when an employee is doing work that is tip-producing or engaged in tasks that directly support tip producing work.

Under the final rule, an employer can take a tip credit only when the tipped employee is performing tip-producing work or when the tipped employee is performing work that directly supports tip-producing work as long as the tipped worker does not spend a substantial amount of time doing tip-supporting work. The rule defines substantial amount of time as more than 20 percent of the hours worked during the employee’s workweek or a continuous period of time that exceeds 30 minutes.

The final rule becomes effective December 28, 2021.

U.S. Economy Grew 2% in Third Quarter

Gross domestic product – the broadest measure of economic performance – grew at a 2% annual rate during the three months through September, the weakest of the recovery, according to an advance estimate released Thursday by the Commerce Department.

Personal consumption grew at a 1.6% pace after accelerating 12% during the second quarter. Businesses have since the reopening of the global economy struggled to keep store shelves stocked due to supply-chain bottlenecks and labor deficiencies. The supply shortages have resulted in higher prices for the consumer.

Core personal consumption expenditures, the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure, increased 4.5% in the third quarter. While that was below the 6.1% increase in the second quarter, it remained well above the Fed’s 2% long-term target.

Increases in private inventory investment, personal consumption expenditures, state and local government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment were partly offset by a drop in residential fixed investment, federal government spending, and exports.

Weaker motor vehicle expenditures subtracted 2.39 percentage points from GDP during the quarter.

Record imports of foreign goods resulted in net exports deducting 1.14 percentage points from growth.

Consumer Alert: DATCP Sees Rise in Antivirus Subscriptions Email Scams

Wisconsin consumers are receiving an increasing number of fake antivirus emails from scammers. In the past year, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) received three times the number of complaints from consumers who have lost money to this scam as in the prior year.

These emails often falsely claim that the recipient’s subscription to antivirus software has been automatically renewed, and their bank account will be charged several hundred dollars. The email provides a phony customer service number to call and cancel. Scammers wait for people  to call them and take advantage of those who provide their credit card information, account numbers, passwords, and other information. They have also been known to ask recipients to download a file

Reports to DATCP’s Bureau of Consumer Protection indicate that these phony emails have eventually led to scammers accessing victims’ computers through downloaded files, pop-up windows, or web addresses provided over the phone. Once they have access they can install malware, block you from your files, and steal your financial information.

If you receive a similar email, be wary. Delete the email and do not call any numbers provided in the email. If you have an antivirus subscription and have questions about its status, contact the company through a trusted contact method.

Federal Reserve Bank Faces Challenges to Credibility

The Federal Reserve is attempting to tamp down two significant challenges to its credibility as both its handling of inflation and internal ethics face growing scrutiny. 

The central bank is quickly moving to address a scandal involving stock trades made by its top officials. And price increases are running higher and longer than many Fed officials expected, boosting pressure on the bank to slam the brakes on the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and back down from a new, more tolerant approach to inflation. 

The Fed last year launched a strategy that allows inflation to rise above the bank’s 2 percent annual target to make up for almost a decade of low price increases and stagnant wages. The new framework was meant to allow wages and employment to rise until inflation was on track to average out near the Fed’s ideal level before the bank hiked interest rates.

Even so, the persistence of high inflation and uncertainty over how long it will last is boosting pressure on the Fed to change course and deviate from its new framework. 

Prices grew by 4.3 percent in the year leading into August, according to the personal consumption expenditures index, the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. The consumer price index for September also showed steady increases in food, energy and housing prices, prompting interest rates on bonds to rise as Wall Street braces for higher inflation.

The Fed is almost certain to announce next month its plans to reduce its monthly purchases of Treasury and mortgage bonds, initiated in March 2020 to keep markets flowing, with the economy well into its recovery. Powell reiterated Friday that the Fed does not plan to raise interest rates until the labor market is on track to fully recover from the pandemic.

Announcing a sooner start to interest rate hikes could appease inflation hawks and soothe some concern about rising prices. But experts say it would raise serious doubts about the Fed’s willingness to follow its own rules as it also scrambles to contain the fallout of a trading scandal involving at least two former top officials. 

All Wisconsin Phone Calls will Require Dialing the Area Code

Starting Sunday people in Wisconsin will have to dial local numbers using 10 digits — the area code and the seven-digit phone number.

Currently, people in Wisconsin can place a call to a number in the same area code without dialing the area code. The change will affect both landlines and cellphones and all of Wisconsin’s six area codes, as well as more than two dozen other states that have not already switched to 10-digit dialing.

The change is because the Federal Communications Commission is establishing 988 as the new nationwide phone number for suicide prevention and mental health help.

CDC Expands Eligibility for COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

On Thursday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendation for a booster shot of COVID-19 vaccines in certain populations.

For individuals who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the following groups are eligible for a booster shot at 6 months or more after their initial series:

For the nearly 15 million people who got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, booster shots are also recommended for those who are 18 and older and who were vaccinated two or more months ago.

There are now booster recommendations for all three available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. Eligible individuals may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster dose. Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received and others, may prefer to get a different booster. The CDC recommendations now allow for this type of mix and match dosing for booster shots.

 

Legislative Leaders Introduce New Congressional and Legislative District Maps

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) introduced the new maps for Congressional, Assembly and Senate districts. (Senate Bill 621/Senate Bill 622) as part of the redistricting process in Wisconsin.

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau publishes updated information reflecting changes in the population since the previous census. This information is used by states to redraw local, legislative, and congressional districts so that each district has approximately the same number of  people.

The Wisconsin State Legislature, according to their constitutional and statutory duty, has undertaken this task with requests for additional input from numerous public advocacy groups, including the ‘People’s Maps Commission’, and Wisconsinites from across the state. The new district maps are the next step towards crafting final districts which meet every criteria required by state law, the U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Wisconsin.

With the introduction of the maps as legislation, Wisconsinites will now have the opportunity to thoroughly review and give comment on congressional districts, state senate districts, and state assembly districts as part of the public hearing process. That additional input will continue the open, transparent process as bills move through the Legislature.

The Legislature made it very clear through Senate Joint Resolution 63 that the criteria used to create maps are consistent with the traditional and legal frameworks that guide redistricting. The transparent efforts to engage the public and enshrine our intent through an official action of the Legislature is designed to give everyone in Wisconsin confidence in the process and additional opportunity for unprecedented public input.