Biden mandates vaccines for all feds and demands corporates follow suit

By on 13/09/2021 | Updated on 13/09/2021
President Biden: "Pandemic politics are making people sick, causing [the] unvaccinated to die.” Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that mandates all US federal workers and government contractors must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face disciplinary action. He also announced plans to require companies to force workers to get vaccinated or be tested for the virus at least once a week.

Earlier this year, the president ordered federal employees to prove their coronavirus vaccination status or to undergo regular testing and other rigorous safety protocols. In this executive order, signed on 9 September, regular testing has been removed as an alternative.  

“I have determined that to promote the health and safety of the Federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service, it is necessary to require COVID-19 vaccination for all Federal employees, subject to such exceptions as required by law,” the order reads.

The order is scant on detail, but it is understood that exceptions would be allowed on certain religious and medical grounds. Government contractors would be subject to the same rules.

Disciplinary action

During a briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that federal workers would have 75 days to comply with the order. “If a federal employee fails to comply, then they will go through the standard HR process, which includes counseling, and face progressive disciplinary action,” Psaki told reporters. According to Government Executive, she implied that though she hoped action would not include termination, firing staff in certain circumstances could be an option.

The “overarching objective”, she said, is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans, of which there are thought to be around 80 million.

“We want to reduce that number, decrease hospitalizations and deaths and allow our children to go to school safely… Obviously the federal workforce is one of the largest in the country and we would like to be a model of what we think other businesses and organizations should do around the country.”  

Half US workforce

On the same day Biden announced that under a plan to be finalised by the Department of Labor, US companies employing 100 or more people will have to require their staff to be vaccinated or agree to regular testing. According to White House officials, the rule will affect roughly half the US private sector workforce.

The new measures are part of a wider effort to head off vaccine hesitancy and curtail the Delta variant. The US is currently averaging more than 150,000 new COVID cases a day – far more than this time last year before vaccines were available – and an average 1,500 daily deaths.

Biden said that “a distinct minority” of Americans and elected officials “are keeping us from turning a corner” and that “pandemic politics are making people sick, causing [the] unvaccinated to die”.

Backlash

While leading scientists and medical professionals have welcomed the executive order, including US surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, the measures have prompted a fierce backlash from Republicans. Several senators, leading party officials and red-state governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, have threatened to sue the federal government, arguing that Biden acted unconstitutionally when he imposed the mandate.

South Carolina governor, Henry McMaster, said in a Tweet: “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said the order is “exactly the kind of big government overreach we have tried so hard to prevent in Arizona – now the Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way”.

He added, in a Tweet: “This will never stand up in court. The vaccine is and should be a choice. We must and will push back.”

No legal challenge from union

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) has been cautious in its response to the new measures. It said on 13 September that it had considered the likelihood of success on a legal challenge to the mandate and found that “more than 100 years of legal precedent exists confirming the authority of employer-required mandates and vaccines, and the courts at all levels have consistently rejected challenges to this type of mandate”.  

Therefore, it said it would not legally challenge the executive order requiring federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

It said it is in discussions with the administration “regarding progressive discipline for employees who remain unvaccinated” and noted that it “remains concerned that any disciplinary actions taken by agencies are defined in advance and are administrated consistently and fairly”.

It added that it “understands and respects” the differing perspectives of its individual members on matters regarding vaccines, mask wearing and social distancing but that it “encourages everyone who is able” to get the vaccination. It cited evidence from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), published on Friday, which found that unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19.

The Veteran Affairs Department announced in July that it would require vaccines for all healthcare staff. It was the first US federal agency to make such a move.

Biden’s new executive order follows Canada, which in August mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all its federal workers.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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