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White House, Labor Department Respond to Stay of Vaccine Mandate

Delay would cost lives, filing says
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — In response to an appeals court ruling that would temporarily stop the January implementation of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate because of “grave statutory and constitutional issues,” the U.S. Department of Labor said that “a stay would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day” and “hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans last week issued an emergency motion to stay enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), or vaccination mandate, “pending expedited judicial review.”

Under the mandate, convenience-store retailers, restaurant companies and other businesses with at least 100 employees would have had until Jan. 4 to ensure that their workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House announced. All unvaccinated employees at qualifying companies would have been required to wear face masks during their entire time at a workplace starting Dec. 5.

In a Nov. 8 White House press briefing, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “The administration clearly has the authority to protect workers, and actions announced by the President are designed to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. … The Department of Labor has a responsibility to keep workers safe and the legal authority to do so. The Secretary … determines workers at risk or what is called ‘grave danger’.”

She said more than 750,000 people have died of COVID-19 and that approximately 1,300 people a day continue to die from the virus. “If that’s not a “grave danger,’ I don’t know what else is,” she said. “Congress empowered OSHA through a law that has been in the books for more than 50 years.  So, this is an authority that we believe that Department of Labor has. We are very confident about it.”
Jean-Pierre also said that business owners who see headlines that the mandate has been stayed should still prepare their employees now to get vaccinated and not wait while the debate goes on in court.

“We think people should not wait,” she said. “Do not wait to take actions that will keep your workplace safe. It is important and critical to do, and waiting to get more people vaccinated will lead to more outbreaks and sickness. So, this is about keeping people in a workplace safe.  And so what we’re seeing is more business and school closures and more lost jobs keep us stuck in a pandemic that we’re trying to end. …  We’re trying to get past this pandemic, and we know the way to do that is to get people vaccinated. So, people should not wait. They should continue to move forward and make sure that they’re getting their workplace vaccinated.”

The convenience-store and fuel retailing industry is concerned, however, over the consequences of a mandate. “It may complicate already fragile labor markets and create challenges for many businesses that are currently struggling to remain open,” the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the Energy Marketers of America (EMA), the National Association of Truckstop Operators (NATSO) and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA), said in a letter in late September to Jim Frederick, OSHA’s acting assistant secretary.

“The travel plaza and truckstop industry supports efforts to increase vaccinations in the United States, but a federal vaccine mandate will have a significant negative impact on our industry and its ability to keep truck drivers on the road,” Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of the National Association of Truckstop Operators, said when the mandate was announced. “NATSO members are a critical part of the supply chain and serve the nation’s truck drivers, who deliver life-saving vaccines. Losing additional employees on top of the current labor challenges could force some retailers to close their doors and lead to limited fuel supplies. Since the pandemic began, NATSO members recognized how important it was to keep their doors open to keep professional drivers on the road, delivering food and medical supplies. When the vaccine became available, truckstops and travel centers provided bonuses and paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.”

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