Supreme Court Blocks OSHA Workplace Vaccine Mandates

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A divided U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test rule that would have been enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and impacted roughly 1.7 million automotive employees.

“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court explained. “Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.” 

The high court also doubted that the plan would have worked at all during numerous hearings, citing that 27 states had already issued formal opposition to OSHA’s plan to begin mandatory vaccination requirements for businesses. Their claim was that the proposed rules were unconstitutional and vastly exceeded the organization’s authority.

“The Biden Administration’s OSHA rule was a long time coming and we have been preparing for months now in anticipation,” Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy stated in November 2021. “President Biden’s attempt to force mandates upon the nation is unconstitutional — it is an attack against the individual’s freedom and a threat against liberty. My administration previously issued an Administrative Order which represents my commitment to Alaskans against President Biden’s vaccine mandates. Alaskans can rest assured I will take every action possible to defend them and their rights. I am not anti-vaccine; I am anti-mandate, and I will stand up against federal overreach.”

While support of the proposed OSHA rules remained strong among businesses through 2021, numerous organizations that would have been subject to the rules likewise started walking things back during the fall — including automakers.

Domestic manufacturers (Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis) had all indicated that they would likely comply with vaccine mandates before January of 2022, coinciding with the Biden administration’s preferred timeline. Some had also started requiring salaried workers to report for their vaccine status while others began setting up worksite vaccination points.

However, organized opposition to mandates had swelled throughout 2021 and none of the Big Three were willing to commit to anything by November. The same was true of the UAW, which encouraged members to get vaccinated while officially opposing any government-backed initiatives that would have forced the issue. The most domestic automakers would say is that they collectively supported the UAW’s request for all unionized workers to voluntarily submit their vaccine status to employers and would likely continue requiring the wearing of personal protective equipment (e.g. masks). But the industry remained quiet on the matter through December 2021, perhaps waiting to see how things played out with the Supreme Court.

They now have their answer. Judges decided to oppose the Biden Administration’s plan to give OSHA more authority, with three members of the court’s left wing (Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) having dissented.

Though the Supreme Court did narrowly allow (5-4) a requirement would require health care workers in facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding to be vaccinated, pending further proceedings. This time it was the right-leaning members of the court (Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett) dissenting.

Automakers and the UAW are expected to give a joint statement on the Supreme Court decision pertaining to vaccines in the coming days.

[Image: General Motors]

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