By DAVID KOENIG, AP Business Writer
For companies that have been waiting to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court before deciding whether to require vaccinations or regular coronavirus testing for workers, the next step is up to them.
Many big companies have remained silent on Thursday’s High Court decision to block the requirement that workers in companies with at least 100 employees must be fully vaccinated or else regularly tested for COVID-19 and wear a face mask. job.
Target’s response was typical: the major retailer said it wanted to review the decision and “how it will affect our team and our business.”
The Biden administration argues that nothing in federal law prevents private companies from imposing their own vaccine requirements. However, the companies could face state bans on vaccination mandates in Republican-controlled states. And relatively few companies enacted their own rules ahead of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement, raising doubts that there will now be a rush for them.
In legal terms, the conservative Supreme Court majority said OSHA had no authority to impose such a mandate on large corporations. The court, however, left a vaccination requirement for most healthcare workers.
The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail organization and one of the groups challenging OSHA’s action, called the court’s decision “an important victory for employers.” He complained that OSHA acted without first allowing public comment, though administration officials met with numerous business and labor groups before releasing the rule.
Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations, another of the groups that fought OSHA’s rule, said it would “interfere with individuals’ private health care decisions.”
Karen Harned, an official with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said that as small businesses try to recover from nearly two years of the pandemic, “the last thing they need is a mandate that would cause more challenges. commercial”.
But proponents of the mandate have called it a security issue for employees and customers.
Dan Simons, co-owner of the Founding Farmers restaurant chain in the Washington area, said the vaccination mandates were “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, you would agree with my approach,” Simons said.
Administration officials believe that even though OSHA’s rule was blocked, it prompted millions of people to get vaccinated. But companies that have used mandates to achieve relatively high vaccination rates may decide they have achieved enough.
Ford Motor Co. said it was “encouraged by the 88% of U.S. salaried employees who are already vaccinated.” The automaker said it would review the court’s decision to see if it should change a requirement that most U.S. workers get vaccinated.
Labor advocates were appalled by the decision.
“This decision will have no impact on most professional and white-collar workers, but it will put millions of frontline workers at risk who risk their lives daily and who are least able to protect themselves,” said David Michaels. , who led OSHA during the Obama administration and now teaches at the George Washington University School of Public Health.
For their part, unions were split from the start on Biden’s attempt to create a vaccine mandate, with many nurses and teachers groups in favor, but many police and fire unions went along with it. opposites. Some unions wanted the right to negotiate on the issue with the companies.
United Auto Workers, which encourages workers to get vaccinated, said the decision will not change safety protocols such as face masks, temperature checks and distancing where possible for more than 150,000 union members in the General Motors, Ford and Stellantis factories.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million service sector workers, said the Supreme Court’s ruling is a relief for healthcare workers but leaves others without essential protections.
“By blocking the vaccine or test rule for large employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at even greater risk, giving in to companies trying to rig the rules against workers permanently,” said the syndicate.
The union has called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. Workers also need better access to testing and protective equipment, the union said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest union for food and meatpacking workers, said the Supreme Court ruling fails to recognize the “extreme risks to health” faced by America’s frontline food and retail workers on the job.
“Frontline workers need to be protected and this decision unnecessarily ignores that there was a better way to address this issue without denying this mandate,” UFCW International president Marc Perrone said in a statement.
Meanwhile, employers are divided on what to do with their unvaccinated workers. Among the 543 American companies surveyed in November by the insurance broker and consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, less than one in five required vaccination. Two-thirds had no intention of requiring the firings unless the courts upheld OSHA’s requirement.
Jeff Levin-Scherz, an executive in the company’s health practice, said most companies with warrants will keep them because they work. He said nothing less than a mandate can bring vaccination rates 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, in August. CEO Scott Kirby said 99% of United employees have had the vaccine or submitted an exemption request for medical or religious reasons.
United declined to comment on Thursday, but in earlier comments Kirby appeared committed to his employees’ mandate because “it was the right thing to do for safety.”
The airlines fall under a separate Biden order that required federal contractors to have their workers vaccinated. That requirement wasn’t part of Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, but it’s been tied to separately since early December, when a federal district judge in Georgia issued a preliminary injunction restraining the warrant’s execution.
AP Staff writers Anne D’Innocenzio in New York, Paul Wiseman in Washington, and Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to read that Marc Perrone is the president, not the CEO, of UFCW.
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