WASHINGTON — Many in the trucking industry have been grinding their gears over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that’s set to take effect in early January.
But in the late hour Thursday, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh made a statement saying that truckers should be exempt from the mandate.
“If you’re a truck driver and you’re outside, you’re in a cab driving by yourself, this doesn’t impact you. If you’re a worker outside working in the area, this doesn’t impact you,” Walsh told Philadelphia television station WPVI.
Whether Walsh’s statement means that truckers are exempt remains unclear.
In a statement on Friday, the American Trucking Associations said it was working to verify if what Walsh said will hold up against President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate order for businesses. Meanwhile, nearly a dozen states have filed lawsuits to fight back against the order.
Jan. 4, 2022, is the federal deadline for companies employing more than 100 people to require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers or mandate weekly COVID-19 testing.
According to an order from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers must have received their second shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, by that date. Employers are required to pay workers for the time they spend receiving the vaccinations. Sick leave must also be made available for those who suffer side effects from the shot.
Unvaccinated workers will be required to wear masks in workplace settings beginning Dec. 5, 2021, according to the federal mandate.
Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds, according to the mandate.
Failure to comply could result in penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation for companies. Federal officials also left open the possibility of expanding the mandate to smaller employers.
The mandate does not apply to employees who do not report to a workplace where other individuals, such as co-workers or customers, are present, employees while they are working from home, or employees who work exclusively outdoors.
The mandate is already drawing lawsuits and the ire of several industries.
Officials in the trucking industry have been angry that truckers aren’t exempt from the measure, which Biden has said is key to stopping a virus that has killed more than 750,000 Americans.
Biden said his encouragement for businesses to impose mandates, and his own previous requirements for the military and federal contractors, have helped reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans over age 12 from 100 million in late July to about 60 million as of early November.
Those measures, he said, have not led to mass firings or worker shortages, adding that vaccines have been required before to fight other diseases.
The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) issued a statement on the issue, saying, “To the dismay of TCA and our partners across the transportation sector, trucking was not exempted. TCA is still analyzing the mandate and will follow up with additional information specifically relevant to our truckload carrier members.”
TCA has also been warning the Biden administration that the mandates could have further negative impacts on the already-strained supply chain.
A separate joint statement from TCA and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) said:
“Our industries are committed partners in the fight against COVID-19, and we unequivocally support the use of vaccines to fight its spread. However, we are concerned a mandate will cripple an already strained supply chain. We estimate companies covered by the mandate could lose 37% of drivers at a time when the nation is already short 80,000 truck drivers. We ask for flexibility for transportation and supply chain essential workers, particularly truck drivers who spend most of their time in their trucks and have minimal contact with colleagues and customers.”
Kentucky’s attorney general pushed back Nov. 3 against the mandate, filing a lawsuit claiming the requirement amounts to government overreach.
The suit, filed in federal court in Kentucky, takes aim at the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors, according to Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Ohio and Tennessee joined in filing the suit, which claims the vaccination requirement is unlawful and unconstitutional.
“The federal government contracts with private businesses and public agencies in states across the country, and the commonwealth is no exception, meaning that numerous Kentuckians are subject to the Biden administration’s unconstitutional vaccination requirement,” Cameron said.
“We are taking the issue of federal overreach seriously and will protect the livelihoods of countless Kentuckians and Kentucky businesses from overbroad mandates,” he added.
The attorneys general in the three states also claim the vaccine mandate violates state sovereignty by preventing the states from exercising power to establish laws regarding workforce vaccination policies. They also contend the mandate is unconstitutional because Congress did not give the president authority to issue such a broad mandate.
“This rule is garbage,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said through a spokesperson Nov. 3. “It’s unconstitutional and we will fight it.”
South Carolina’s governor, Republican Henry McMaster, said he is planning to issue an executive order keeping state agencies from enforcing the rule.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.