President Biden is moving to fill in more vacancies in his key sub-Cabinet positions, announcing his selections to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Federal Transit Administration.
The White House said on April 9 that Biden had picked Doug Parker, chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) since 2019, to be assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
Biden also named FTA Deputy Administrator Nuria Fernandez, formerly an acting FTA chief in the Clinton administration and a top official at several major U.S. transit agencies, for the top federal transit job.
Both nominations require Senate confirmation.
During the Obama administration, Parker was deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Dept. of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. Earlier, he was a senior policy advisor and special assistant at DOL.
An attorney, Parker began his legal career as a staff attorney with the United Mine Workers of America. He later was a staffer for the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).
In February, Biden nominated Julie Su, Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, to be DOL's deputy secretary. Cal/OSHA is part of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) in a statement called Parker “the right choice” to head OSHA. Scott added that Parker “understands what it takes to protect workers on the job, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The House committee’s top Republican, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, sharply criticized Parker’s selection. She said the nominee was “a key architect” in developing California’s COVID Emergency Temporary Standard, which, she said, “placed dozens of unworkable and bewildering new mandates on employers that often conflicted with current science and are doing nothing to improve workplace safety outcomes.”
[View 11/22/2020 ENR story on the emergency temporary standard here.]
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka—who formerly was the mine workers' union president—praised Parker, saying that 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 also called on OSHA to issue a national emergency temporary workplace-safety standard for COVID-19.
Chris Trahan Cain, North America's Building Trades Unions' director of safety and health, said in an emailed statement, " In addtition to making sure construction workers are protected against COVID, OSHA has a lot on its plate from persistent and emerging health and safety hazards that lack acceptable controls."
She added that Parker, if confirmed, could develop regulations to address the hazards and work with other federal agencies on safety and health matters related to infrastructure, energy and the construction workforce's changing demographics.
Greg Sizemore, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development, said in an emailed statement, "ABC looks to OSHA to continue to be a collaborative partner for the entire industry, helping us to create the conditions for everyone to complete their work without incident and to go home safe an healthy every day."
Sizemore added that ABC hopes OSHA will be transparent in its actions and get public input on workplace safety issues.
Transit Industry Veteran
Before joining FTA on Jan. 20 as deputy administrator, Fernandez was general manager and chief executive officer of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
Earlier in her career, Fernandez was the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s chief operating officer. Before that, she was senior vice president of design and construction at the Chicago Transit Authority, and later held the same position at the Washington [D.C.] Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Fernandez is well-known in the transit industry and was the 2019-20 chair of the American Public Transportation Association. Paul Skoutelas, APTA president and chief executive officer, said that in her APTA role, Fernandez "proved a steady guide" through the onset of the pandemic and its major impacts on transit systems around the country.
Story updated on 4/13/2021 with comments from North America's Building Trades Unions, Associated Builders and Contractors and American Public Transportation Association.