News of the Day

OSHA Initiates Enforcement Program to Identify Employers Failing to Submit Injury, Illness Data

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is initiating an enforcement program that identifies employers who failed to submit Form 300A data through the agency’s Injury Tracking Application (ITA). Annual electronic submissions are required by establishments with 250 or more employees currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, and establishments with 20-249 employees classified in specific industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses.

The program matches newly opened inspections against a list of potential non-responders to OSHA’s collection of Form 300A data through the ITA and reports all matches to the appropriate OSHA area office. If the area office determines that the establishment on the list is the same establishment where the inspection was opened, OSHA will issue citations for failure to submit OSHA Form 300A Summary data.

In addition to identifying non-responders at the establishment level, the agency is also reviewing the 2021 submitted data to identify non-responders at a corporate-wide level. This corporate level review is being conducted for the nation’s largest employers.

OSHA developed the program in response to recommendations from the Government Accountability Office to improve reporting of summary injury and illness data.  The initiative will begin in early April.

The agency is also posting ITA data as part of its electronic recordkeeping requirements for certain employers. By mid-March, 289,849 establishments had submitted their OSHA Form 300A information.

 

U.S. Consumer Debt Jumped by $40 Billion in February

Americans got into a lot more debt in February as rampant inflation kept up the pressure, the Federal Reserve’s consumer credit report showed Thursday. Debt levels jumped by nearly $42 billion to a total of almost $4.5 trillion. That’s an annual increase of 11.3%, seasonally adjusted. In January, total credit had grown only 2.4%.

Revolving credit, which includes credit cards, jumped by 20.7% to about $1.1 trillion. The category increased by only 4% in the prior month.
Nonrevolving credit, such as student or car loans, grew by 8.4% to $3.4 trillion, also outpacing a smaller January gain.

U.S. Postal Service Announces New Prices for 2022

Today the United States Postal Service filed notice with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) of price changes to take effect July 10, 2022. The new prices, if approved, include a two-cent increase in the price of a First-Class Mail Forever stamp from 58 cents to 60 cents.

The proposed prices, approved by the Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, would raise First-Class Mail prices approximately 6.5 percent. The proposed Mailing Services price changes include:

Product                                                        Current Prices                Planned Prices

Letters (1 oz.)                                                  58 cents                         60 cents
Letters (metered 1 oz.)                                   53 cents                         57 cents
Letters additional ounce(s)                              20 cents                        24 cents
Domestic Postcards                                       40 cents                        44 cents
International Letter (1 oz.)                              $1.30 cents                  $1.40 cents

The PRC will review the prices before they are scheduled to take effect. The complete Postal Service price filing with prices for all products can be found on the PRC site under the Daily Listings section at prc.gov/dockets/daily.

Department of Safety and Professional Services Announces LicensE Launch Date and Related Application Blackout Period

The Department of Safety and Professional Services is announcing a two-week blackout period for initial license applications for 72 license types (the list of affected licenses is available HERE – https://dsps.wi.gov/Pages/LicensE.aspx). This black-out is part of the transition to LicensE, the department’s new self-guided, online platform that is replacing paper-based applications for occupational licenses.

The department will accept no new initial applications for the 72 license types from 12 p.m. on April 29 through 11:59 p.m. on May 15. The black-out period is a critical step to ensuring the successful launch of this new system. Applications received after 12 p.m. on April 29 will not be processed. Paper applications postmarked after this date will be returned to applicants. Current applications awaiting decisions will be evaluated in the order they were received.

LicensE will launch on May 16, and all initial applicants for the 72 license types will be able to use the new platform. Other licenses (initial applications and renewals) will transition to LicensE in subsequent phases.

Renewals are not included in the blackout, and any license types in active renewal during the blackout window can renew during their entire renewal period. Temporary licenses related to the pandemic are also not included in the blackout.

Spring Election – Tuesday, April 5

Today – Tuesday, April 5 – is the date of the nonpartisan Spring Election. The Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

State offices to be elected are:

  • Court of Appeals Judge in Districts II, III and IV; and
  • Circuit Court Judge in Barron, Crawford, Dane, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Iowa, Kewaunee, Lincoln, Marathon, Milwaukee, Monroe, Oconto, Outagamie, Pierce, Portage, Racine, Rusk, St. Croix, Sauk, Vilas, Walworth, Waushara, and Winnebago counties.

In communities throughout Wisconsin, there will also elections for county supervisors, city mayors and alderpersons, village presidents and trustees, town chairs and board members and school boards.

To find your polling place and what is on your ballot, visit the Wisconsin Election Commission voter assistance website – My VoteWisconsin – https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/.

U.S. Economy Grew by 6.9% in Fourth Quarter of 2021

The U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of 6.9% in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to the final estimate of gross domestic product released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis on Wednesday.

While the report is a look in the rearview mirror, it puts a rubber stamp on what was an extraordinary recovery from the economic shocks brought about by the coronavirus. Earlier estimates had put the quarterly gain at 7%. Much of the growth was driven by businesses restocking inventories.

Earlier this month, the Fed set in motion a round of interest rate increases with a 25-basis-point hike in the federal funds rate. Market interest rates have already moved upward, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury hitting 2.416%.

The yield on the 5-year Treasury rose above that of the 30-year note briefly on Tuesday, in what is known as a yield curve inversion, often a warning sign of a recession. But it then reverted back and analysts still put the odds of a recession anytime soon at no higher than 20% to 30%.

Global supply chain disruptions, also a byproduct of the pandemic, were beginning to ease earlier this year but then picked up with the situation in Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions on Russia by many countries. Russia is a key global supplier of oil, while Ukraine is a major producer of wheat and some precious metals used in a variety of products.

State Regulators Approve $171 Million Natural Gas Plant near Wausau

State regulators voted 2 to 1 to approve plans from two of the state’s largest utilities to build a $171 million natural gas plant near Wausau.

We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service say the 128-megawatt plant is a key part of a $3.5 billion plan to retire 1,600 megawatts of fossil fuels and replace that with power from wind, solar and battery storage. Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, which owns the two utilities, has pledged to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030 and go carbon-neutral by 2050. The Utilities hope to begin construction of the plant this year and place it in service in 2023.

As part of the transition, they plan to keep a “modest amount” of natural gas in their power mix that includes the new plant, which will have seven reciprocating internal combustion engine (RICE) units in Rothschild and Kronenwetter.

Public Service Commission Chair Rebecca Valcq agreed the gas-fired units are important to ensure that reliable power can be dispatched quickly when renewable resources aren’t available. “The company will be able to call on that capacity to fill in the gaps for intermittent resources when it’s needed,” Valcq said.

As Wisconsin and the federal government aim to go carbon-neutral by mid-century, Commissioner Ellen Nowak argued regulators need to “be the adults” to ensure reliable and affordable power throughout the clean energy transition.

“The record here shows that we have to build these units. They’re necessary,” Nowak said. “If you like renewables, then … you need these units. They are a necessary part of the transition.”

Nowak highlighted studies by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and Midcontinent Independent System Operator that underscore the variability of renewable energy and need for more flexible resources like natural gas.

 

Business Lobby Defeats Biden Labor Nominee in Senate

Business groups celebrated this week after the Senate rejected David Weil, President Biden’s pick to run the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The Senate failed to advance Weil’s nomination by a 47-53 vote on Wednesday night, with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Mark Kelly (Ariz.) joining all Republicans in blocking Biden’s nominee.

Weil, who previously held the wage division post in the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017, issued rules to reclassify independent contractors as employees and attempted to hold corporations accountable for their franchisees’ labor practices during his previous tenure.

Business groups, including the National Restaurant Association and National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, centered their lobbying efforts around the three moderate Democrats who ultimately sank Weil’s nomination.

They warned that Weil would use his broad powers to bypass Congress and implement sections of the PRO Act, a sweeping pro-labor bill opposed by the business lobby that remains stalled in the Senate due to GOP opposition.

Weil, who is currently dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, has long complained that the franchise model allows corporate giants to dodge accountability and is a fierce critic of gig companies such as Uber and Lyft.

U.S. Department of Labor Announces Proposed Rule to Amend Federal Occupational Injury, Illness Recordkeeping Regulation

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing amendments to its occupational injury and illness recordkeeping regulation. The current regulation requires certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness information – that they are required to keep – to OSHA. The agency uses these reports to identify and respond to emerging hazards and makes aspects of the information publicly available.

In addition to reporting their Annual Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, the proposed rule would require certain establishments in certain high-hazards industries to electronically submit additional information from their Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, as well as their Injury and Illness Incident Report.

As part of OSHA’s mission to protect workers and mitigate workplace hazards, this rule would improve OSHA’s ability to use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources to identify workplaces where workers are at high risk. The proposed rule would also advance the department’s mission to empower workers by increasing transparency in the workforce.

The proposed rule would:

  • Require establishments with 100 or more employees in certain high-hazard industries to electronically submit information from their OSHA Forms 300, 301 and 300A to OSHA once a year.
  • Update the classification system used to determine the list of industries covered by the electronic submission requirement.
  • Remove the current requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees not in a designated industry to electronically submit information from their Form 300A to OSHA annually.
  • Require establishments to include their company name when making electronic submissions to OSHA.

Establishments with 20 or more employees in certain high-hazard industries would continue to be required to electronically submit information from their OSHA Form 300A annual summary to OSHA annually.

Inflation Tops List of Issues for Voters Ahead of Midterm

Inflation is the issue voters are most concerned about heading into the midterms even amid concerns about the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll.

Thirty-two percent of voters in the poll said inflation is the most important issue facing the country, followed by 27 percent who said the top issue was the economy and jobs and 21 percent who said immigration.

Seventy-six percent of voters said they have been impacted by inflation somewhat or a lot. Forty-six percent of voters also said they anticipate inflation to stay high and 35 percent said they feared it would go even higher.

Inflation has been spiking in recent months, hitting a 40-year high of 7.9 percent earlier in March. The surge has been fueled by a rise in prices in food, energy, shelter and a broad range of consumer goods.

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey of 1,990 registered voters was conducted from March 23-24. It is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and the Harris Poll.