With the Biden administration’s new timeline for mandating vaccinations or weekly testing for those working at private businesses with 100 or more employees, critics in the public and private sectors are quickly positioning themselves against the measure.
The rules, long-anticipated in an effort to get further ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic that has now killed more than 750,000 Americans since early 2020, will take effect January 4. Multiple states have declared they will take the issue to court.
And while some local mandates have shown success in getting unvaccinated Americans onboard with inoculations, a handful of companies and organizations expressed doubts about whether the administration is charting the proper course.
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, called the new rules “burdensome” for retailers during the upcoming holiday season.
“It is critical that the rule not cause unnecessary disruption to the economy, exacerbate the preexisting workforce shortage or saddle retailers, who are already taking considerable steps to keep their employees and customers safe, with needless additional requirements and regulatory burdens,” NRF senior vice president David French said in a statement Thursday.
The Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group representing the construction industry, said the new rules will “cause regulatory burdens that will exacerbate several headwinds facing the construction industry — which is currently facing a workforce shortage of 430,000, escalating materials prices and supply chain bottlenecks.”
Ben Brubeck, ABC’s vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs, said in a statement, “ABC will be participating in the rulemaking process and plans to assess additional actions, which may include facilitating industry compliance and/or filing a legal challenge.”
For at least one company, a legal challenge is already underway.
Lawyers for conservative media company The Daily Wire petitioned the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday to review the rules, arguing the administration’s action is unlawful and infringes on workers’ health decisions.
Along with companies that employ at least 100 people, the rules will also apply to certain health care workers and federal contractors.
Health experts and officials have consistently pointed to preventative vaccinations as the best way to curb the spread of Covid-19, yet new inoculation rates have slowed substantially from spring highs. Around 58% of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 50% in August.
Hospitalizations increased nationwide following the arrival of the Delta variant this summer and unvaccinated Americans remain at significantly higher risk, pushing some local governments, school districts and companies to mandate vaccinations or increase testing.
Political scramble to fend off mandates
A slew of mostly Republican-led state governments quickly made clear their objection to the administration’s latest move.
In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody said it will challenge the emergency vaccine rule.
“I will take swift legal action to stop this unprecedented overreach by the federal government — to protect Florida and our workers from the unlawful edicts emanating from President Biden and his handlers. The President does not have the power to force health policy through a workplace safety department,” Moody said in a press release Thursday.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster directed state agencies to notify the governor’s office and state attorney general if they receive any directives from the Biden administration on requiring Covid-19 vaccinations.
Separately, Indiana joined Louisiana and Mississippi in a lawsuit filed in US district court on Thursday for “injunctive relief” against the mandate, according to court documents.
The lawsuit states that the government’s mandate “suffers from a host of fatal flaws” among them having “major economic, social, and political significance,” affecting approximately one-fifth of the country’s workforce and threatening “widespread implications for safety-net programs” across the states.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told CNN his office will file a lawsuit Friday that will “challenge the president’s authority to do this on many levels.”
Last week, a 10-state coalition spanning from Alaska to New Hampshire filed a lawsuit against the administration for imposing a vaccine mandate on federal contractors and federally contracted employees.
In Congress, Senate Republicans are launching an effort to overturn the mandate by holding a vote on a resolution disapproving of the rule, yet it is unlikely to pass with Democrats in control of the chamber.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Thursday’s press briefing that the administration believes the vaccine rules will hold up in court to any legal challenges and called out Republicans for challenging actions aimed at protecting the health of Americans.
“We’re pretty confident the administration clearly has the authority to protect workers and actions announced by the President are designed to save lives and stop spread of Covid,” Jean-Pierre said.
Local mandates are already in play
While states ready themselves for a new round of legal challenges, local vaccine mandates are already operating in some parts of the country.
An ordinance approved in August by the Los Angeles City Council mandated that non-exempted city employees be vaccinated before November.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva warned of a “mass exodus” of deputies from the department and said he would not enforce the mandate.
Villanueva said only about 42% of the department’s sworn personnel have been vaccinated and 3,137 deputies are at risk of termination due to the mandate, adding that many unvaccinated deputies are voluntarily leaving the department to escape the vaccination requirement.
But the county Board of Supervisors disputed Villanueva’s characterization and said there has been no increase in attrition since the mandate was implemented.
“The LASD level of attrition over the past year has been slightly lower than the overall County rate,” the Executive Office of the Board said in a statement to CNN. “There were nine LASD retirements in October, which is not considered a high number.”
Many law enforcement unions have resisted vaccine mandates proposed or enacted by local governments, yet Covid-19 has been the leading cause of death for officers since the start of the pandemic. In 2021 alone, at least 264 officers have died of Covid-19 while at least 52 have died from gunfire, the next leading cause, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Despite the pushback, places like New York City are pointing to their local mandates as reasons for improving their inoculation numbers. All city workers were required to receive at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose by last Friday or face unpaid leave.
Of the 44 city agencies listed, 37 now have vaccination rates of 90% or higher, according to data released Tuesday by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. Two weeks ago, only 12 of 44 agencies had rates of 90% or higher.
The vaccination rate for the NYPD is at 85% and the rate for FDNY firefighters is at 79%, according to city data Wednesday.
The city’s fire department’s ability to respond to calls remains intact, despite “misinformation by folks who have a particular ax to grind,” de Blasio said this week.
“So even as people are continuing to have this discussion, the actual folks who do the work are making the decision to get vaccinated and that’s powerful,” he said.
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