President Joe Biden’s mandate for many private employers to require their workers to vaccinate against COVID-19 is hitting a wall of opposition from Republican government officials who pass laws and sign orders to release workers, threaten businesses that adhere to the rules and prepare a lawsuit over the rules. which were announced on Thursday.
“This rule is rubbish,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said through a spokesman Thursday. “This is unconstitutional and we will fight it.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement that he intends to file a lawsuit on Friday.
“The federal government does not have the power to unilaterally compel private employers to demand vaccinations from their employees or pay the bills for weekly testing,” Schmitt said in a statement.
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States have been preparing to meet this requirement since Biden introduced it back in September. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSH) requirements released Thursday are urging companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated by January 4 or get tested weekly. Failure to comply could result in a fine of almost $ 14,000 per violation. Federal officials also left open the possibility of extending powers to smaller employers.
Republican governors or attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana and South Dakota said Thursday that they will file lawsuits against the mandate as early as Friday.
“While I agree that a vaccine is the tool that will best protect against COVID-19, this approach by the federal government is unprecedented and will lead to harmful, unintended consequences for the supply chain and personnel,” said Eric Holcomb of Indiana.
At a press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized what he called an “executive order” for the private sector. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds described the mandate as imposing personal choice, stating that people should be able to make their own health decisions. She recently signed into law a law guaranteeing that people fired for refusing the vaccine may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
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Biden, in a statement Thursday, rejected the argument of many GOP governors and lawmakers that the mandate would hurt the ability of businesses to keep workers at work.
“There were no ‘mass layoffs’ and no shortage of workers due to vaccination demands,” he said. “While some have predicted and falsely claimed, there is widespread public support for vaccination demands.”
The administration is encouraging widespread vaccination as the fastest way out of the pandemic.
Biden’s legal challenge is expected to be wide and swift. All 26 Republican state attorneys general said they would fight the demands, and most of them signed a letter to Biden saying so.
The key to their objection is whether OSHA has legal authority to require vaccines or virus testing.
In a letter to Biden, leading state government lawyers argued that the agency can only address workplace health risks, not those that exist in the world at large. Sima Nanda, chief attorney for the US Department of Labor, of which OSHA is a member, says the established legal precedent permits rules to keep workplaces safe and that those rules take precedence over state law.
This has not stopped state legislators and state governors from taking various measures aimed at undermining federal mandates.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last month issued an executive order barring private companies or any other organization from demanding the vaccine. An Ohio lawmaker has proposed a bill that would prohibit schools and colleges from excluding students who refuse to vaccinate and prohibit employers from firing workers who do so.
Arkansas passed legislation providing vaccine exemptions for workers who can prove they have antibodies to COVID-19, although a broader measure barring employers from asking about vaccination status failed in the Legislature. The OSHA rule includes a religious exemption as well as an exemption for people who work exclusively outdoors or away from others, such as at home.
Legislators or governors in states including Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming have called for special legislative sessions to counter vaccine regulations. In Nebraska, not enough state legislators have agreed to a special session to include it on the calendar, but Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican in the GOP-dominated state, is pushing them to keep trying.
“There are Nebraska residents right now who are losing their jobs due to vaccination requirements,” his office said in a Facebook post on Thursday. “Until new senators come along, these people who are suffering will not get the help they need.”
Factory owner Ross McGregor of Ohio said he would follow the rules like any federal workplace directive, but not because he agrees with them. McGregor opposes the new requirement, just as he publicly opposed attempts by Ohio Republican lawmakers to prevent him from introducing a mandatory coronavirus vaccine for his employees.
“At the end of the day, every employer and every work situation dictates what’s best,” said McGregor, a former Republican MP and owner of axle and brake component maker Pentaflex, where he estimates about half of the 115 or so employees vaccinated. “Banning mandates or imposing them contradicts this.”