For companies that waited for a hearing from the US Supreme Court before deciding whether to require vaccinations or routine coronavirus testing for workers, the next step is up to them.
Many big corporations remained silent on Thursday’s decision of the High Court To block a requirement that workers in businesses with at least 100 employees be fully vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 and wear masks at work.
Target’s response was specific: The large retailer said it wanted to review the decision and “how it would affect our team and business.”
The Biden administration argues that nothing in federal law prevents private businesses from enforcing their own vaccine requirements. However, companies can impose state restrictions on vaccine mandates in Republican-controlled states. And relatively few businesses made their own rules ahead of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement, raising suspicions that there would be a rush for them now.
In legal terms, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court held that OSHA does not have the authority to impose such a mandate on large companies. However, the court dropped the vaccination requirement for most health care workers.
The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade organization and one of the groups challenging the OSHA action, called the court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.” It complained that OSHA acted without first allowing public comments, though administration officials met with several business and labor groups before issuing the rules.
Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Association, one of the groups fighting the OSHA rule, said it would “interfere with individuals’ private health care decisions.”
Karen Harnead, an official with the National Federation of Independent Business, said as small businesses try to recover from the nearly two-year pandemic, “the last thing they need is a mandate that will lead to more business challenges.”
But the supporters of the mandate called it a matter of safety of employees and customers.
Dan Simmons, co-owner of the Farmer chain, a founding restaurant in the Washington area, said the vaccine mandate is “common sense.” It requires its 1,000 employees to be fully vaccinated; Those requesting an exemption must wear a mask and submit weekly COVID test results.
“If your priority is the economy, or your own health, or the health of others, then you would agree with my point of view,” Simmons said.
Administration officials believe that even though the OSHA rule may have been blocked, it has inspired millions of people to get vaccinated. But companies that use mandates to achieve relatively high vaccination rates may decide they have met enough.
Ford Motor Company said it was encouraged by “88% of US salaried employees who have already been vaccinated.” The carmaker said it would review the court’s decision to see if it needed to change a requirement that most US salaried workers get shots.
Labor advocates are disappointed with this decision.
David Michaels, who headed OSHA during the Obama administration, said, “This decision will have no impact on most professional and white-collar workers, but it will put the millions of frontline workers who risk their lives and those who protect themselves.” at least capable of doing it.” Now teaches at George Washington University’s School of Public Health.
For their part, labor unions were divided around Many nurses and teachers’ groups favored Biden’s effort to create a vaccine mandate, but several police and fire unions protested. Some unions wanted the right to negotiate with companies on the issue.
United Auto Workers, which encourages workers to get vaccinated, said the decision would not change safety protocols such as face masks, temperature checks and distancing for more than 150,000 union members at General Motors, Ford and Stelantis factories.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million service industry workers, said the Supreme Court’s decision is a relief for health care workers but leaves others without significant protections.
The union said, “In blocking the vaccine-or-testing rule for large employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at risk, trying to force corporations to rig the rules against workers permanently.” Huh.”
The union called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. The union said workers needed better access to testing and protective equipment.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest union for grocery workers and meatpacking plants, said the Supreme Court ruling fails to recognize the “extreme health risks” facing America’s front-line food and retail workers at work. have to face.
“Frontline workers need to be protected and this decision unnecessarily overlooks that there was a better way to solve this issue without denying this mandate,” UFCW International President Marc Perron said in a statement. “
Meanwhile, employers are divided over what to do with their unaffiliated workers. In November, 543 US companies were surveyed by insurance broker and consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, of which one in five required vaccinations. Until the courts upheld the OSHA requirement, two-thirds had no plans to require near shots.
Jeff Levine-Scherz, an executive in the firm’s health practice, said most companies with mandates will keep them as they continue to operate. He added that nothing less than the mandate can get the vaccination rate up to 90%, and “you really need a very high level of vaccination to prevent community outbreaks.”
United Airlines was one of the first major employers to announce a mandate back in August. CEO Scott Kirby has said that 99% of United’s employees either vaccinated or submitted requests for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.
United declined to comment on Thursday, but in earlier comments, Kirby said it was committed to the mandate for his employees because “it was the right thing to do for safety.”
Airlines fall under a separate Biden order that requires federal contractors to get their employees vaccinated. The requirement was not part of Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, but has been tied separately since early December, when a federal district judge in Georgia issued a preliminary injunction to enforce the mandate.
Associated Press Staff Writers Anne D’Innocenzio in New York, Paul Wiseman in Washington and Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Crischer in Detroit contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to read that Marc Perron is the president, not the CEO, of UFCW.