Conservative justices appear leery of OSHA vaccine rule

January 7, 2022

Mark Schremmer

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Several members of the U.S. Supreme Court questioned the need for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine rule during a special hearing on Friday, Jan. 7.

At issue is OSHA’s vaccine rule, which would mandate that companies with 100 or more employees require their workers to either receive the COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly. Opponents contend that the rule oversteps and is unconstitutional. OSHA, meanwhile, says the rule is necessary, pointing to nearly 830,000 deaths in the United States in less than two years. The agency says the rule could save “thousands of lives” and prevent “hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations in the next six months alone.”

The first stage of the rule is set to go into effect next week, prompting the emergency hearing. Unlike in typical Supreme Court cases, a decision is expected within days or weeks rather than in months.

Based on the questions and comments on Jan. 7, it appeared at the Supreme Court’s conservative majority was skeptical of the vaccine-or-test rule.

“This is something the federal government has never done before,” Chief Justice John Roberts was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

The conservative justices questioned whether federal agencies had the authority to put the rule in place without approval from Congress.

In December, OSHA announced that it planned to move forward with its rule after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed an earlier court decision to put the emergency temporary standard on hold. The Fifth Circuit, which imposed the stay, called the rule “fatally flawed” and “staggeringly overbroad.” The Sixth Circuit ruled 2-1 that the OSHA standard could move forward.

As of now, the first stage of the OSHA rule would go into effect Jan. 10, while compliance with the testing portion of the requirement would be Feb. 9.

The Supreme Court also will look at a separate rule that would require health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding to have their workers fully vaccinated.

Although the rules would affect millions of workers, they would not apply to most truck drivers.

The vast majority of truck drivers will not fall under the OSHA rule because 96% of motor carriers have no more than 25 drivers. In addition, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said late last year that the rule wouldn’t apply to most truck drivers since they are alone in their cab. However, it is expected that team drivers at large fleets would be required to either get the vaccine or weekly testing.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says that all truck drivers should be exempt from the rule, including team drivers. LL

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.