The US covid vaccine mandate has the Biden administration gearing up for a fight, as the federal government had all the power it needed to require big size employers to mandate vaccination of their workers — or have those who refuse the jabs to wear masks and submit to weekly testing against the Covid-19 virus starting January 4.
In a court brief filed late Monday, administration officials including Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda warned that maintaining the stay “would endanger many thousands of people.”
“With the reopening of workplaces and the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the threat to workers is ongoing and overwhelming,” the administration argued that, while dismissing the legal objections that led to the stay as lacking merit.
“Defending a policy is not a new thing,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre earlier on Monday. “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.”
“Do not wait to take actions that will keep your workplace safe,” Jean-Pierre urged companies not to delay complying with the rule.
Just a day-and-a-half for President Biden’s vaccine-or-test rule covering atleast 84 million workers is blocked by a federal appeals court.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday temporarily stayed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s OSHA-emergency temporary standard that would require employers to put a mandate for employee vaccination.
“Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby stayed pending further action by this court,” the circuit court ordered.
But whether companies will in fact be required to take any action at all is uncertain, given the barrage of lawsuits facing the administration. And more than two dozen states, businesses, business groups and religious organizations and Republican states have sued, calling the rule issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration an overreach of government authority.
However, the Justice Department argued that the rule was necessarily to protect workers from the pandemic and was well grounded in law.
Keeping the mandate from coming into effect “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects, and tremendous costs,” the Justice Department said in its filing. “That is a confluence of harms of the highest order.”
The filing argued that OSHA had properly determined that potential exposure to the virus raised a “grave danger” to workers, in line with the standard Congress had laid out in the law. It also rejected the challengers’ contention that steps to reduce the risk of infection by a disease fell outside the sorts of workplace hazards that the agency had the power to regulate.
The Justice Department wrote that “the statutory text is unambiguous and limited to addressing grave dangers to employees in the workplace. Like many other areas of regulation, workplace-safety regulations may affect many Americans and may touch on issues about which some people disagree. But that does not automatically compel a circumscribed interpretation of a deliberately broad congressional grant.”
Jean-Pierre, said on Monday that it was routine for administration policies to face legal challenges and urged employers not to wait for the litigation to be completed before requiring their workers to get vaccinated — as some already have — or begin submitting to weekly testing.