The U.S. government’s COVID-19 mandate for American workers has been overturned. However, the mandate was around long enough to stir up plenty of controversy, especially in the trucking industry.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) withdrew the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard January 26, after the Supreme Court blocked the requirements earlier in month.
“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 wrote in an unsigned opinion.
Under the defunct rules, businesses with 100 or more employees had to ensure their employees were either fully vaccinated or that they submitted a negative COVID-19 test weekly in order to be allowed to enter the workplace. This would have covered some 80 million private-sector employees.
The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and its members repeatedly called on the Biden administration to “heed our warnings regarding this mandate’s impact on the already constrained supply chain.”
TCA said the mandate would have “undoubtedly ensure(d) the trucking industry loses a substantial number of drivers. These are the drivers the country is relying upon to deliver food and fuel, yet our national leadership has decided these needs must go unmet.”
American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear issued the following statement on the issue:
“We successfully challenged this misguided mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court because it was a clear overstep of OSHA’s authority, and because it would have had disastrous consequences for an already overstressed supply chain. The Supreme Court bounced it, and we are pleased to see the agency has now formally withdrawn it, sending this ETS to the dustbin where it belongs.”
In an e-mail to members, TCA Vice President of Government Affairs David Heller said the association is continuing to monitor the issue.
Heller praised the Supreme Court for their ruling against the vaccine mandate, adding that it “is a victory for the trucking industry.”
Heller added, “It is imperative that the professional truck driver has the ability to safely, efficiently and effectively deliver our nation’s freight so that our economy and this nation can continue to thrive.”
The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.
While the Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses either be vaccinated, undergo weekly testing, or wear a mask while on the job, at the time of this writing, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.
The court’s order, issued January 13 during a spike in COVID-19 cases, was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.
Members of the trucking industry expressed a sense of relief following the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is a victory for the trucking industry as TCA, ATA, and many other partners incessantly voiced our concerns about the wide-reaching negative repercussions this mandate would have,” said Heller.
ATA’s Spear called the ruling “a tremendous victory” and adding that the vaccine requirements would have interfered with individuals’ private health care decisions.
“Trucking has been on the front lines throughout the pandemic — delivering PPE (personal protective equipment), medical supplies, food, clothing, fuel, and even the vaccines themselves,” he said. “Thanks to this ruling, our industry will continue to deliver critical goods, as our nation recovers from the pandemic, and we move our economy forward.
The court’s conservative majority concluded that the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected.
“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservative members of the Supreme Court wrote in an unsigned opinion.
In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts.
“Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the court displaces the judgments of the government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.
When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials said, they always anticipated legal challenges — and privately, some harbored doubts the rule could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success, having already driven millions of people to get vaccinated and spurred private businesses to implement their own requirements, which are unaffected by the legal challenge.
Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as being too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees is already difficult.
While the general mandate has been shot down, the vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide covers virtually all health care workers in the country. It applies to health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, potentially affecting 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.
Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.
In the health care case, only justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted their dissents.
“The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have,” the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion, saying the “latter principle governs” in the health care cases.
More than 208 million Americans — 62.7% of the population — are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.