The Washington Post Sunday

Biden’s vaccine mandate is controvers­ial now, but the furor probably will fade


As President Biden said Sept. 9 when announcing his ambitious, multistep “Path Out of the Pandemic” plan: “Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free.”

Speaking as someone who hasn’t hugged her mom in nearly two years — and knowing how small a sacrifice that is compared with those who never got to hug their loved ones goodbye — I’d say that’s an understate­ment.

After 18 months of doing our part for this group-survival project, many of us are exasperate­d and exhausted at being repeatedly dragged back from the finish line by others peddling snake oil in lieu of science, and trampling the public good in pursuit of personal convenienc­e and amusement.

We’re tired of trying to navigate how to politely protect ourselves from our own colleagues and bosses. We’re tired of making the impossible calculatio­ns between feeding our families and protecting them. Tired of being expected to cover, yet again, for parents who are tired of overseeing their kids’ online schooling during yet another class quarantine.

I’m tired of having nothing to offer scared workers seeking recourse against bosses who can’t be bothered with coronaviru­spreventio­n measures. I’m tired of trying to find the words to convince bosses that letting workers feel safe at home is better for the bottom line than seeing their dutiful faces crammed around a conference table.

Even though I’m usually a fan of compromise and diplomacy, my better angels are on a long smoke break.

So it’s in that context that I was pleasantly surprised by the “masks on, gloves off ” tone of the Biden administra­tion’s plan for combating covid-19 in U.S. workplaces.

Under the executive order, federal employers and contractor­s, as well as healthcare providers that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, will be required to ensure that all their employees are fully vaccinated.

In the most controvers­ial piece of his plan, Biden has further directed the Labor Department to issue an emergency rule requiring private-sector employers with more than 100 employees to ensure that their workers are either fully vaccinated (with the usual exceptions for religious and disability reasons), or undergoing weekly testing for the coronaviru­s.

Biden’s plan gives teeth to the Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion, which has been under fire for failing to issue and enforce coronaviru­s-specific safety rules to protect workers during the pandemic — especially front-line employees in health care, food supply, meatpackin­g, warehousin­g and other essential services.

Up until now, masks, physical distancing, barriers, sanitation, contact tracing and other protective measures have been largely left to the discretion of state and local government­s and individual employers.

Although OSHA did implement an emergency temporary standard in June establishi­ng rules for health-care employers, its protection­s for workers in other industries have been limited mainly to firmly worded recommenda­tions.

Biden’s workplace vaccinatio­n mandate authorizes OSHA to upgrade those recommenda­tions to requiremen­ts, although it’s not yet clear how OSHA will enforce them or whether they will withstand legal challenges.

Opponents call the mandate unconstitu­tional. Several governors are vowing to fight it in their states. Some businesses are concerned that requiring vaccinatio­n will make it even harder for them to hire and retain workers in the current market. Even those who generally favor the mandate are concerned about the practical details: How will everything be paid for? What about remote workers? Does it even go far enough to effectivel­y combat the coronaviru­s?

Business organizati­ons, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Associatio­n of Manufactur­ers, seem to support the mandate, perhaps because it takes a necessary but contentiou­s decision out of business owners’ hands. A Washington Post-ABC poll found that a majority of Americans support businesses requiring employees to get vaccinatio­ns.

The charged reactions to the vaccinatio­n mandate remind me of a workplace legal battle from 2016, when the Obama administra­tion tried to expand overtime eligibilit­y for the first time since 2004 by nearly doubling the income threshold. Opponents argued it was an illegal overreach, too burdensome on businesses, and would result in massive job cuts. Some employers took proactive steps to comply; others held out to see how the courts would react. In November 2016, a court blocked the rule from taking effect, and that seemed to be the end of it.

But in 2019, President Donald Trump’s Labor Department issued a final rule that raised the income threshold for overtime by roughly half the amount proposed by the Obama administra­tion. It was a less drastic change, but one that even opponents of the 2016 rule seemed to agree was necessary and long overdue.

I dunno. It just kind of gives me hope that even in the most polarized and contentiou­s times, common sense might find a way to prevail, especially with lives still at stake.

 ??  ?? Work Advice
Work Advice

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States