Fri, Jan 14, 2022 4:05 PM
By Brett Davis | The Center Square, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Two Olympia, Washington-based business groups welcomed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered a stay on a federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement for private businesses.
The conservative majority of justices on the nation’s highest court blocked President Joe Biden’s mandate that all private sector employers with at least 100 workers must ensure their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly.
That policy would have applied to more than 80 million workers had the court not ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration exceeded its authority.
“Many States, businesses, and nonprofit organizations challenged OSHA’s rule in Courts of Appeals across the country,” the court said in its Thursday ruling. “The Fifth Circuit initially entered a stay. But when the cases were consolidated before the Sixth Circuit, that court lifted the stay and allowed OSHA’s rule to take effect. Applicants now seek emergency relief from this Court, arguing that OSHA’s mandate exceeds its statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful.
“Agreeing that applicants are likely to prevail, we grant their applications and stay the rule,” the court said, hinting at its upcoming final ruling.
The court did allow the vaccine mandate to stand for health care workers at federally funded facilities.
“We were happy to have the court rule the way it did,” said Dave Mastin, vice president of government affairs at the Association of Washington Business (AWB), the state’s oldest and largest business association, with nearly 7,000 members representing 700,000 employees.
That sentiment was echoed by Mark Johnson, senior vice president of policy & government affairs at the nonprofit trade group Washington Retail Association.
“We’re pleased with the Supreme Court decision,” Johnson said to The Center Square.
Both men expressed relief employers won’t have to implement the mandate.
“It’s not the employer’s job to enforce the government mandate,” Mastin said, noting the AWB favors pandemic-mitigation strategies such as vaccines and booster shots, masks, and social distancing, but is against forcing businesses to choose between hefty fines and protecting employees’ health care rights.
Employers already have a lot on their plate, he said, including supply chain issues, a labor shortage, and inflation.
“Employers are doing everything they can to get more employees and goods and services to the public,” Mastin said.
He added the mandate did not consider “lots of different circumstances” with its “one size fits all” approach.
Johnson agreed, noting staffing is “one of the biggest challenges for retailers today.”
He said he feared the mandate would make attracting and retaining workers that “much more difficult” and would have added many “logistical and administrative challenges” to businesses that are currently struggling.
The court’s private sector ruling came on a 6-3 vote. Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined the court's three left-leaning justices in a 5-4 decision to uphold the health care workers mandate.
Biden, whose administration argued the mandate was necessary to protect workers, balked at the court’s decision.
The president said in a White House statement after the ruling he is "disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law."
Biden noted that his administration's policy was designed to allow employees at large companies to opt out of vaccination, so long as they tested once a week and wore a mask at work. "A very modest burden," Biden said.
Despite the ruling against his administration, Biden noted he will not stop "using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans' health and economy."
He then called for business leaders to "join those who have already stepped up" and implement vaccination requirements of their own.
The court’s decision appeared to be having an impact. General Electric Co. on Friday said it has suspended the COVID-19 vaccine or test requirement for employees, CNBC reported.