RALEIGH — On Thursday, Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced that he was directing the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a rule “that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.” Those in violation could see fines of up to $14,000 per infraction. The plan will also require vaccination for all federal employees and contractors as well as employees for any health provider that accepts Medicare or Medicaid.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said to unvaccinated Americans during his speech. “So, please, do the right thing. But just don’t take it from me; listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds, taking their final breaths, saying, ‘If only I had gotten vaccinated. If only.’”
Soon after the announcement, there was strong pushback from conservative leaders across the country, including in North Carolina.
U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC3) was among the first to release a public statement in opposition to the president’s move: “As a physician, I have been a strong proponent of the COVID vaccine since the beginning. I have administered the vaccine myself, and I believe in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. That said, I am completely opposed to a federal mandate requiring COVID vaccination.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC9), speaking during a congressional debate on the rule, said, “Let me make this clear, a vaccine mandate has never in the history of this country been attempted. It is a gross abuse of power. It is an intrusion on the constitutional authority of this body — the Congress.”
Bishop went on to say that he and other representatives are hearing from employers who are “mortified” by the prospect of imposing these vaccine and testing regulations on their large companies, but said in a tweet that “As with the eviction moratorium, SCOTUS [the Supreme Court] will slap him down. And then he will blame SCOTUS.”
The office of Josh Dobson, the Republican commissioner of the N.C. Department of Labor, told NSJ on Sept. 13 that he is also opposed, but they are unsure of the role the White House would require his department to play in any OSHA order.
“At this point, the N.C. Department of Labor has no information or additional details beyond what was announced by the Biden administration last week,” Jennifer Haigwood, Dobson’s communications director, told NSJ. “It’s too early to say exactly how these proposed requirements may impact North Carolina. But preliminarily, Commissioner Dobson – though supportive of vaccines – does not support this type of excessive government overreach and intrusion.”
Among N.C.’s five congressional Democrats, on the other hand, there was largely silence on the upcoming OSHA rule. A search of the social media and press statements of Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC1), Deborah Ross (D-NC2), David Price (D-NC4), Kathy Manning (D-NC6) and Alma Adams (D-NC12) turned up little, with only Price posting a short statement in support of the president’s plan.
This may be a political calculation by Democrats, as the upcoming rule is proving to be unpopular with the American people. Trafalgar, a right-leaning polling firm that had among the most accurate polls in the last three election cycles, found in a poll released Sept. 13 that 59% of voters believe Biden’s mandate to be unconstitutional, including 68% of independents, while only 30% believe it to be constitutional. Overall, 56% of voters wanted governors to fight to block the new rule, including 79% of Republicans and 62% of independents.
The N.C. Chamber of Commerce, an advocacy group that counts many of these large companies as members, is also taking a cautious approach in their initial reactions. They provided a statement to NSJ from their president and CEO Gary Salamido on Sept. 13 neither supporting or opposing the mandates for now.
“The implications of President Biden’s announcement of federal COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates for large employers are far reaching and complex, and the NC Chamber is working hard to analyze the impacts on our members and on North Carolina’s entire business community,” Salamido said. “We begin our analysis with the knowledge that the vast majority of our state’s employers have already weighed the latest expert guidance and acted to protect the health and safety of their people. With that background in mind, numerous questions remain about the effectiveness of this new approach, its impact on the competition for talent, the legal risks inherent in it, and even how enforcement will work.”
Later Salamido added: “As our team continues to analyze these new requirements, we will provide further updates as we develop a more complete picture of the impacts on job creators.”