West Michigan businesses navigate new federal vaccine mandate

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Posted at 10:20 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 22:42:08-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — West Michigan businesses say more guidance is needed following an aggressive push from President Joe Biden to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19.

The rules, proposed on Thursday, would require private employers with more than 100 workers to mandate the shots or test for the virus weekly. It would also apply federal workers and contractors, health care workers in hospitals, clinics and other facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid payments, and employees of Head Start early childhood education and other federal education programs. It would impact about 100 million people.

“There’s a whole host of questions that come along with this,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. “We’re getting different kinds of feedback from members. Some that strongly disagree with the mandate, some that support it.”

Johnston says among some of the concerns are when the mandate will take effect and how it will be enforced.

OSHA must still write, approve and implement the requirements. The White House says religious and medical exemptions will be allowed.

RELATED: Biden: Republican governors ‘cavalier’ for resisting new COVID vaccine rules

“We’ve been very concerned and not fans of broad stroke employer mandates that, again, don’t recognize the unique nuances of each workplace and reduce employer flexibility,” said Johnston. “We prefer to see more voluntary programs because we understand these government mandates are going to place enormous costs and logistical burdens on employers that are already struggling with talent issues and fragile supply chains.”

FOX17 contacted some of the area's largest employers, like Meijer and Perrigo, but only heard back from two.

In a statement, Amway, which is headquartered in Ada and employs 2,700 people in Michigan, said, “We are in the phase of understanding how the legal requirements announced by President Biden on Sept. 9 will impact Amway operations; and will inform employees first once we have decided how to proceed.”

Steelcase, which has 3,161 workers in Grand Rapids, shared a similar sentiment, but more clearly laid out its intention to comply.

“Steelcase has been encouraging all employees globally to get vaccinated as soon as vaccines were widely available and will continue to do so,” said a Steelcase spokeswoman. “Regarding President Biden’s announcement of new vaccination-related requirements that apply to businesses, once the details of those workplace safety orders are published, Steelcase intends to comply with them.

Rob Howard, an associate attorney at Bos & Glazier, PLC in Grand Rapids, says the move by the Biden administration is nothing new and legal, explaining the executive branch can set forth standards for its different agencies, like OSHA.

“Employees are entitled to a safe workplace and the federal government requires that of employers, to provide them with a safe workplace,” said Howard. “This is one more step in that measure based on our pandemic.”

Howard expects the mandate to be challenged in court, but says a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court case, which upheld a Massachusetts small pox vaccine requirements, sets precedent. He adds, in general, federal law would preempt any state law that could contradict the move since its seen as the “supreme law of the land.”

“Considering the carve out that you can just get tested if you don’t want to get vaccine, I don’t see how it’s going to pass the rational basis test that’s required of something like this,” said Howard. “Based on the cases that have come up in the past 18 months regarding Florida’s stay at home orders and New York’s limit on gatherings, the courts have generally enforced these rules.”