US vaccine mandate in trouble
US President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations after touring a Clayco Corporation construction site for a Microsoft data centre in Elk Grove Village in Illinois last month. President Joe Biden's plan to require vaccinations at all private employers of 100 workers or more has already hit a wall of opposition from Republican governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general. (Photo: AP)

ARKANSAS, u nited States (AP) — President Joe Biden's mandate for many private employers to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is facing a wall of opposition from state Republican officials who are passing laws and signing orders to exempt workers, threatening businesses that comply and preparing legal fights over rules that were announced yesterday.

Many Republican officials said they intended to file lawsuits quickly in hopes of halting the mandate, saying the federal government lacks the authority to force vaccines or testing on the private sector.

“This rule is garbage,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said yesterday through a spokesperson. “It's unconstitutional and we will fight it.”

States have been preparing for the requirement since Biden previewed it in September. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, released yesterday, call for companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated by January 4 or be tested weekly. Failure to comply could result in penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation. Federal officials also left open the possibility of expanding the mandate to smaller employers.

Republican governors or attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana and South Dakota said that they would file lawsuits against the mandate as soon as today. The Daily Caller, a conservative media company, filed a challenge in federal court yesterday.

“While I agree that the vaccine is the tool that will best protect against COVID-19, this federal government approach is unprecedented and will bring about harmful, unintended consequences in the supply chain and the workforce,” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said in a statement.

At a news conference, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis criticised what he called an “executive fiat” for the private sector. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds characterised the mandate as an imposition on personal choice, saying people should be able to make their own health-care decisions. She recently signed a bill guaranteeing that people who are fired for refusing a vaccine can qualify for unemployment benefits.

At least 19 Republican-led states have already sued the Biden Administration over a separate mandate requiring vaccines for employees who work for federal contractors.

Biden, in a statement yesterday, dismissed the argument from many GOP governors and lawmakers that a mandate for employers will hurt businesses' ability to keep workers on the job.

“There have been no 'mass firings' and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements,” he said. “Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support.”

The administration has been encouraging widespread vaccinations as the quickest way out of the pandemic.

Challenges to the workplace mandate from Republicans and conservative groups are expected to be broad-based and quick, reflecting yet another aspect of the COVID-19 response — from mask requirements to social-distancing guidelines — that has fallen into a partisan divide. Democratic governors and attorneys general were relatively quiet after the OSHA rules were announced yesterday. From California, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a simple Twitter message: “The right move.”

All 26 Republican state attorneys general have said they would fight the requirements, and most of them signed a letter to Biden saying as much.

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