GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Biden administration’s announcement of sweeping vaccine requirements for a huge number of employees in the private sector has left many with more questions than answers.
President Joe Biden addressed the nation Thursday about the need to get more Americans vaccinated. The administration is now requiring all federal executive branch employees and companies with federal contracts to have their staff vaccinated without a weekly testing option. Biden also says employers in the private sector with more than 100 workers will be required to test weekly or enforce a vaccine mandate.
Local employers say they are trying to decipher what that will mean for them.
“When the announcement came out about executive orders and the desire for (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to implement this emergency rule, my first reaction was I had a lot of questions and quite a bit of concern for our members,” said Andy Johnston, the vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which advocates on behalf of local businesses. “Some of the nuance of it, like why 100 (workers)? And with talent being the No. 1 issue that our employers are having, are they going to have to fire those employees? What does that look like? If the weekly testing doesn’t pan out, who’s going to pay for the weekly testing? Who’s going to administer the weekly testing?”
Johnston says the new rule put employers in a difficult spot.
“We still think that vaccinations are the No. 1 way we’re going to get past this pandemic,” he said, “but we also know that employer mandates are incredibly concerning and those decisions should be left up to private employers to determine the conditions of employment.”
EXPERT: 1905 CASE SUPPORTS MANDATE
Just one day after the announcement, several Republican leaders, states and union chiefs have threatened legal action. But experts say many of these arguments likely won’t hold.
“There’s no question broadly speaking: government can do that,” said retired Gen. Michael McDaniel, a constitutional law professor at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School.
McDaniel says the federal government is using a precedent from a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court case in which a man refused to get a smallpox vaccine. McDaniel says the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the government’s right to enforce vaccine laws during a medical or worker emergency.
“They basically said one man’s liberty cannot deprive his neighbors of their liberty. In this case, the liberty interest is to be free from unwanted vaccination. The neighbor’s liberty is to be free from an unwanted disease,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel added that vaccine requirements are not new. Several public schools and military branches require various vaccinations.
He also said that technically, employers would be giving workers a choice.
“The employee themselves have three choices. One is not a good one, which is I’m not going to work there anymore. The second, of course, would be I’ll do the weekly testing and come up negative each time, knowing that I could lose my job if I come up positive and the third is I’ll just go ahead and get the vaccine,” McDaniel said.
OSHA still has to write, approve and implement the official language of the vaccine mandate.