Op-Ed: Healthy Citizens & Healthy Businesses Back to Work Initiative is a Commonsense Way to Safely Return PA to Work

Over the past few weeks, I have heard frustration from business owners, constituents and Pennsylvanians alike about the business waiver process associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The waiver process implemented by the Wolf Administration is flawed, chaotic, lacks criteria and is unilaterally-imposed.

Governor Wolf should not have the sole and arbitrary power to judge which businesses survive. His only answer to this was creating a star chamber-like secret waiver process which, at last count, had more than 30,000 requests.

The entire waiver process is a well-guarded secret with zero accountability or transparency.

We have no idea if the approved or disapproved waivers are getting a political payback, or how decisions are being made.

As a result, I am pleased to formally announce the introduction of Senate Bill 1103, which creates a path to getting Pennsylvania back to work again.

The legislation, called the “Pennsylvania Healthy Citizens & Healthy Businesses Back to Work Initiative,” applies strict health and safety measures in allowing businesses to resume operations.

It is not up to the Governor to pick winners and losers – this was made evident in a recent expose by the Philadelphia Inquirer, which discovered the Wolf Family legacy company remains open, despite an order to the contrary.         

The key concern of Governor Tom Wolf was to reduce the spread of the virus by severely restricting and limiting what he called “non-essential” – and later – “non life supporting” business activity. 

Wolf’s unilateral closure order impacted tens of thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and put at stake the very lives and economic well-being of our citizens.  His draconian order took no account of Center for Disease Control or Occupational Safety & Health Administration guidelines on allowing low-contagion risk jobs to remain operational.

Instead, at the stroke of a pen, the Governor unilaterally issued a proclamation that will be calamitous for our state. 

Hardest hit among these are: single parent families, young couples, the independently-employed (who still are not eligible for unemployment, despite my engagement with the Governor to reverse his position), non-profits and small businesses.  There is a real and present danger that Wolf’s cure may be worse than the virus. 

This is too much power in the hands of one man and, as we saw with the Philadelphia Inquirer expose, it is already being used for political payoff. 

My newly-introduced Senate Bill 1103 will allow businesses to reopen if they agree to abide by Center for Disease Control mitigation measures to contain the spread of the virus.

We need a safe, fair and balanced approach to reopening businesses.  Not the secret and random Wolf waiver process, but rather an approach that takes the incompetence and corruption of Harrisburg bureaucrats out of it. 

We are indeed experiencing unique and uncertain times as a result of COVID-19.

The pandemic has necessitated certain emergency measures to curtail its spread.  This encompasses social distancing, sanitary health practices, health-conscience behavior, a sanitary work place, and many other considerations listed by the Center for Disease Control.

My solution represents a process that uses the expert advice of Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to provide direction on how certain businesses can reopen – which at the same time – will protect the health and welfare of our people and state.

The preponderance of the “non-life sustaining businesses” closed by Governor Wolf are categorized by the federal government as “low to medium risk” at spreading the disease, and that’s without them already implementing the CDC’s health-conscience best practices.  Imagine how safe they will be with implementation of CDC’s guidance. 

The way ahead for Pennsylvania is to offer businesses deemed by Governor Wolf as “non-life supporting” to resume operations, but under certain conditions.  

To reopen, all mangers, owners and staff must agree to comply with CDC and OSHA coronavirus mitigation measures until the state of emergency has ended. 

These businesses do not require a waiver, but agree to enforce CDC and OSHA policies during the COVID-19 health crisis and will be responsible to meeting these standards if inspected by the PA Department of Health or local law enforcement. 

Timely and full compliance is required to continue operating during the crisis. 

An appeals process will be established at the Department of Labor to handle any disagreement with an inspector’s findings and monthly reports will be filed with the relevant committees in the House and Senate to provide oversight and transparency.  The House and Senate Labor & Industry Committees will adjudicate any appeals or complaints that are challenged by the businesses in disagreement with an inspector’s decisions.   

As part of my legislation, businesses that resume operations during this health crisis agree to abide by the following health practices delineated by both the CDC and OSHA:

  • Implement a generous sick leave policy, without retribution, for anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms will immediately be sent home and not return until cleared by a healthcare professional;
  • Sick employees must remain at home until their symptoms have passed and/or they receive a clean bill of health from their healthcare provider, or state/local health officials;
  • Employees with sick family members, or family members at higher risk (elderly, those with a weakened immune system, heart conditions, respiratory disease, chronic medical condition, diabetes, etc), should not work in a public area and all efforts should be made for them to work from home;
  • Employers allow as many employees as possible to work from home;
  • Employers must ensure that there is a minimum of six feet between workers, as well as six feet maintained between the employee and the public; and, among other criteria
  • Employees with a sick family member will not return to work until that family member is cleared by a professional healthcare worker.

 Additionally, the business will agree to:

  • Implement sanitary policies and a regular cleaning schedule to reduce exposure to COVID-19;
  • Have adequate cleaning supplies available, as well as disposable paper towels, etc. The business will also ensure that tissues, hand sanitizer, gloves, medical masks and other necessary sanitary products are available on site should an employee need them;
  • Online meetings will be encouraged rather than in-person;
  • Employees will not share tools, equipment, phones, desks, computers or electronics;
  • Employers will agree to allow employees to remain home to care for sick relatives if necessary;
  • Employers will develop flexible emergency leave policies during this health crisis and have non-punitive measures in place for those that need time off due to health concerns;
  • Employers will suspend non-essential operations and go to “minimal manning” to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19;
  • Employers adopt “flexible worksites” that allows telework, etc. to reduce likelihood of exposure;
  • Break rooms and cafeterias should be closed; and, among other provisions
  • Limit public interaction and use curbside pickup.

In closing, I’m reminded of a local florist that is operated by a husband and wife. 

They can do all transactions online and deliver the arrangements to the customer.  They will not exchange money, see or meet any people, and are at zero risk of spreading the virus. 

There is another local business in my area that is operated by a husband, wife and their daughter.  Again, the transactions can be done online and the goods can be left out for pick-up or delivery.  They will have no interaction with the public and are at zero risk of spreading the virus. 

Having such low-risk businesses shut down at the whim of the Governor lacks reason or justification.

What’s the point of shutting down any activity that has zero to little risk of spreading the virus?  This is simply an example of the heavy hand of big government, needlessly crushing hard-working families and small business owners.   

By implementing the above best practices, the spread of the virus will be contained and migrated, while at the same time allowing Pennsylvania to reopen for business. 

Mandating the implementation of these commonsense and life-saving measures – as described by CDC and OSHA – will ensure the safety of our citizens and the survival of our businesses. 

Without compromising the health and welfare of our people, this balanced and commonsense approach is in the best interest of Pennsylvania. 

Governor Wolf, it’s time to think about the people of Pennsylvania and get “safe businesses” back to work.

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