One of the executive orders signed by President Biden after taking office, included the creation of an emergency standard for Covid-19 by OSHA. Originally OSHA had a deadline of March 15, 2021 to create the emergency standard, but that deadline passed with no action taken. This lack of direction has left many industries trying to guess which direction OSHA would take with this emergency standard. Since the original deadline, vaccinations have increased and the CDC has relaxed its guidance surrounding distancing and masking. This new direction in the pandemic was taken in to account as OSHA developed the new emergency standard.
In the end, OSHA released an emergency temporary standard (ETS) addressing Covid-19 that only covers health care workers and exempts all other employers. This is good news for us in the ginning industry and means that we are exempt from the requirements included in the new standard. OSHA did address all exempt employers by releasing new nonbinding guidance that relaxed previous recommendations.
The new guidance for non-healthcare workers can be viewed by clicking the link provided. I suggest that all members review the new guidance. One thing to keep in mind is that this new ETS is issued by federal OSHA and state plan states (VA, NC, and SC) may issue their own standard or guidance concerning Covid-19 worker protection.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several emails and phone calls about how to prepare for seasonal workers this fall. I’m quite glad folks are thinking this far in advance because getting prepared for handing an influx of workers while keeping everyone as safe as possible and keeping the gins running is no small task.
The short answer is we just don’t know, at this point, what the landscape could look like later this week, much less later this year. The way most folks are acting right now and the way the infection rates have been for the past two months points to things being pretty much ‘normal’ for ginning season BUT…we just don’t know what things will look like moving forward.
Don’t get me wrong, I really want things to be normal going forward but I would rather have a mindset that thinks we’ll need to work with the same ideas as far as sanitization and personnel sleeping, shift times to reduce congregating around a time clock etc.. and never need to implement than to get caught flat footed. Additionally, a lot of those same protocols will help if you ever get the flu to go through your gin. That’s no fun either. The flu isn’t nearly as contagious as SARS-CoV2 but it can be just as much of a pain the business.
Will there need to be barriers and restricted entry as many gins did last fall? PROBABLY not but you can see how much of that is still staying up in places.
I will tell you I get news letters and read websites every day regarding this very issue from attorneys and HR firms and… NONE of them is certain about the future. Can you mandate vaccinations? Maybe…maybe not…Should you require masks?… Maybe…maybe not. If you ask an attorney, they are going to give you the most conservative answer in general. When they are wishy washy on an answer to these and similar questions…. they REALLY don’t know. The fact is this year and a half has been one big experiment. We’ve tested lock downs, social distancing, masks and now experimental vaccines (yes they are still considered experimental…currently under emergency use authorization).
We will still be in this great big experiment in the fall. Do we know how to proceed with ginning season this year? No, we don’t. I haven’t written much about this in the past few months because I typically like to send you things that have some concrete information. We’re still ‘squishy’ on this and yes, that is a technical term. I just don’t know how to tell you to prepare for this fall. Use common sense is my best advice TODAY. Stay in touch with your crew and see what their status is. Have they all been vaccinated or had Covid or both? They may tell you that you need to do something different than a group that has not. You get the picture.
I hope we’ll have a better picture by the time we get to the meetings in late Aug or Sept but today, we don’t have much solid advice to give you. As always, give us a call if you have questions.
Over the years we have seen the issue of Social Security Administration’s use of no-match letters come and go. For the past few years, SSA has chosen to send out the letters informing employers that the names and SSN of particular employees didn’t match on their filings. As an example here in our office, we received a no-match letter when two numbers were transposed on MY social security number.
There are any number of reasons that a SSN and a name don’t match. Just one example is above but others are things like a woman who got married and didn’t change her name with SSA. There are also misspellings and issues with hyphenated names that come about often. Employers in high seasonality businesses such as ours often wonder if this is an indication of the legal status of the affected employees.
Guidance for employers has also been mixed over the years as language in the letters changed and often these employees are not around when the letter comes. This puts employers in a tough situation that makes many uncomfortable as to how to proceed. This will not be a problem for the time being. The SSA has said recently they will not be issuing Name Number Mismatch letters for now.
IF, for some reason you receive a letter like this, please let us know. We can help you with how to deal with these letters but we don’t expect any further letters for this year. The administration is exploring ways to combat this issue but it will be a while before a solution is finalized.
Over the past several years, it has become apparent that the first place plastic from module wraps shows up is on the module feeder disperser heads. If there’s a picker issue or if there is an unwrapping issue and a sheet of plastic is somehow still in or on the module when it gets to the head, it will often get wrapped up on the feeder spiked cylinders. These sheets or pieces can stay for a few seconds or hours before it falls off on its own or removed by the gin crew.
As companies develop ways to remove the plastic in the seed cotton or lint stream somewhere in the ginning process, we can often see the plastic on the disperser head cylinders if there is no cotton in the feeder. There have been many discussions on this topic at various meetings such as the Beltwide over the years. One of the ideas that has rolled around and keeps rolling around is a camera to see the dispersers from the inside.
The Gin Lab has recently published a White Paper on the use of cameras and a design that you can build and install in your facility. We encourage you to download THIS PAPER and to consider installing this or something like this in your gin. While all the plans and materials are listed in this paper it does not constitute an endorsement of any particular brand. We hope this will help reduce contamination going forward as other removal techniques are developed.
The Wage and Hour Division has scheduled a group of webinars targeted to Covid-19 and essential workers. Gin workers continued to work throughout the pandemic and the Wage and Hour wants to make sure you as employers as well as employees have all the information on Rights of workers and responsibilities of employers. The Entire Series can be found at this site.
The Employer oriented ones for our area are linked below. The first Webinar is scheduled for this Wednesday the 12th and the deadline to sign up is TOMORROW May 11. Please click on the link below for your area or if you aren’t covered by one of the ones below, follow the closest if you are interested.
May 12 – Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee – Employers, Employees and State and Local Gov.
May 12 -Florida – Employers, Employees and State and Local Gov.
May 13 – South Carolina – Employers, Employees and State and Local Gov.
May 27 – North Carolina – Employers, Employees and State and Local Gov.
We have no idea if these will be at all targeted toward gins but we wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to see these webinars. One thing is clear, Wage and Hour is focused on agriculture this year and will likely to be for some time. More to follow I’m sure.
The US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division announced last week that they will be initiating a Emphasis Program for Agricultural Employers in the US. Earlier in the week, they had specifically mentioned the Southeast. Both Releases will be linked below.
Cotton gins in the Southeast have been targeted for the past few years with several in each state receiving special attention from the Wage and Hour division. In the coming weeks we will be publishing more information on compliance but for now please find the DoL’s ag compliance toolkit. It has several links that will get you started.
Remember, cotton gins have partial exemptions from over time that are not covered in the toolkit. Those carve-outs bring with them extra responsibilities such as keeping up with daily vs weekly overtime.
These emphasis programs are NOT just for H-2A employers but all of agriculture.
The Wage and Hour Ag Toolkit can be found here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/compliance-assistance/toolkits/agriculture
Southeast Emphasis Program: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20210308
National Agricultural Emphasis Program: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20210325
Please don’t hesitate to call with any questions.