US President Joe Biden announced a six-pronged plan on Thursday to combat COVID-19 at a time when the Delta variant is rapidly spreading throughout the country.
The first part of the plan is to vaccinate as many of the 80 million unvaccinated Americans as possible. To meet this goal, Biden asked the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a rule requiring employers with over 100 employees to mandate vaccines or to require weekly testing. OSHA “will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement this requirement.”
Biden also signed an executive order that federal employees are now required to get a COVID vaccine, “eliminating an option laid out in July for unvaccinated employees to be regularly tested instead.” Another order Biden signed requires all contractors that work with the US government to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Additionally, employees who work in healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement funds are now required to be vaccinated. The White House states that such action “will create a consistent standard across the country, while giving patients assurance of the vaccination status of those delivering care.”
Other portions of the new plan include further protecting vaccinated persons through booster shots, keeping schools safely open, increasing testing, requiring mask wear, protecting economic recovery and improving care for people who contract COVID-19.
Republican leaders have decried the new vaccine mandate requirements. The Republican National Committee has announced its intention to sue the Biden administration. Many Republicans have resisted vaccine requirements, insisting that such mandates run contrary to individual freedom. Experts caution that individual companies, many of which have begun implementing their own vaccine or testing requirements, may see an increase in workplace tension. Other employers, however, will likely be relieved to be able to shield themselves with a federal rule.
Unions are in a unique position in the midst of the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandates. According to one administration official, the White House “reached out to union presidents before Biden announced his new policy Thursday and will continue to check in with labor leaders.” While some unions such as the AFL-CIO have supported the President’s mandate, others such as the police and firefighter unions are more resistant.
The American Federation of Teachers originally opposed a vaccine mandate, but has switched to supporting the requirement following the sharp uptick in cases due to the spread of the Delta variant. Resistance by unions is largely due to their practice of negotiating all terms at the collective bargaining table.
Biden’s new vaccination mandate is expected to affect about two-thirds of US workers.