President Joe Biden consulted with union leaders before announcing his vaccine mandate, according to the Associated Press, putting reports that some unions may receive exemptions from the mandate for their membership under greater scrutiny.
Biden announced a new series of COVID-19-related policies last Thursday, including a new federal mandate, enforced through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) emergency powers, requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to force their employees to either get the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to rigorous testing. If businesses do not, they can incur fines of $14,000 per violation, although the definition of a violation is not yet clear.
Biden framed the new mandate as protection for the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, but reports quickly began to surface of companies — including the United States Postal Service — being exempt from the new vaccine rules. The Biden administration tried to clarify the reports, noting that the USPS was still under OSHA’s jurisdiction even though the entity’s union workers were not included in the executive order.
The Associated Press noted Monday that the Biden administration consulted with labor leaders before announcing their mandate, adding that the Biden White House will continue to “check in” with organized labor while OSHA drafts its rule.
“In a sign of the importance of the issue to the Biden administration, the White House reached out to union presidents before Biden announced his new policy Thursday and will continue to check in with labor leaders, said an administration official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss forthcoming plans,” the AP noted.
Some unions appear to have fallen in line; the American Federation of Teachers now backs Biden’s vaccine mandate even though they previously said they opposed such measures. Others, mostly police unions, have resisted state and local vaccine mandates and are likely to resist federal ones, as well.
“In Newark on Thursday, police and fire unions from across New Jersey protested against the mayor’s vaccine mandate outside city hall. Police unions from Chicago to Richmond have pushed back against mandates in their cities. In Portland, Oregon, the local police union got its members exempted from the city’s vaccine order, and a group of police and firefighter unions is suing Gov. Kate Brown to block the state’s vaccine requirement for its workers,” the Associated Press noted.
Other unions aren’t committing. “The American Federation of Government Employees and AFL-CIO, the largest federal union, said they expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation,” The Hill reported Monday.
“Since President Biden made his first major announcement about changing COVID-19 protocols for the federal workforce in response to the surging Delta variant, we have said that changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate. Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions,” AFGE said in a statement.
The Biden administration has, of course, been under fire for consulting with unions on COVID-19 policies before. Just last week, White House officials were revealed to have buckled to teachers union threats after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) loosened face mask guidance back in May. After being threatened with heavy criticism, the White House facilitated discussions between the teachers unions and the CDC. Shortly afterward, the CDC released detailed, updated guidance, demanding that masks be worn by all individuals in educational settings.
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