Fed vaccine rule 'ignores economic reality,' Michigan chamber coalition says

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

A coalition of Michigan chambers of commerce and trade organization is calling for a permanent halt to the federal government's regulations requiring employers to enforce a COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirement.

The 490-page emergency temporary standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is under a temporary stay by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for objections on constitutional grounds. But if the regulations stand, businesses are unlikely to see an extension of the implementation dates that begin as early as next month.

That means businesses are navigating these rules as many are in the midst of their busiest time of year around the holidays and are dealing with pandemic-induced supply-chain issues and labor shortages, according to the coalition known as Listen to MI Business. The coalition, which represents firms employing more than 1 million employees, says it supports the vaccine, but not a mandate. Members are concerned there isn't enough testing capacity to support the increase in demand.

"Waiting two months after the president announced his intent to establish a federal mandate and announcing it two days after the November election to take effect in January ignores economic reality that for many, many employers and employees, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's are the busiest times of the year," Rich Studley, Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO, said during a virtual news conference.

Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce

"This rule is unnecessary. It may soon be obsolete as the fight against COVID evolves, and we're concerned that frankly, it will do more harm than good."

The rules shared last week require employers with 100 or more employees have all unvaccinated employees wear masks staring Dec. 5. Then on Jan. 4, those employers' workers must be vaccinated or get tested weekly. And those tests cannot be conducted and submitted by the same individual. The rules so far have been challenged in six circuit courts.

"Thirteen pages of the 490-page document were dedicated to explaining how you count to 100 and meet the minimum thresholds under which you must comply," said Wendy Block, the Michigan chamber's vice president of business advocacy and member engagement. "It's only the federal government that can make math this difficult."

Added Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce: "After two months of waiting and wondering, we got what we expected and that's the broadest and most far-reaching mandate that OSHA has ever put forward in the history of the agency."

The coalition says it's submitting feedback urging the Biden administration to reconsider within OSHA's 30-day public comment window. It also is encouraging Michigan's federal lawmakers to take action through the Congressional Review Act that allows Congress to block the rules, said Henry Wolf, director of government relations for the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, which is made of 16 chambers of commerce across northern Michigan.

Many of the organizations' members said they expect to require employees get vaccinated or get tested weekly in an effort to retain workforces. That, however, raises concerns over the capacity to accommodate the additional demand.

Michael Tierney, CEO of the Community Bankers of Michigan, likened it to the rollout last year of the Paycheck Protection Program run by the Small Business Administration that had banks overwhelmed with requests: Then-U.S. Treasury Secretary "Steve Mnuchin said you're going to be able to go into your bank next Friday and get a PPP loan. Well, the Small Business Administration didn't know anything about it. The banks didn't know anything about it, and this feels just like it again."

The Michigan Chamber's Studley argued the mandate is misguided given that at least in Michigan "private businesses have never been a significant, major or ongoing source of COVID outbreaks" compared with schools and nursing facilities.

Michigan on Monday reported 181 new outbreaks with 104 from schools. Another 10 were from childcare and youth programs, eight from manufacturing or construction, one from an office setting, four employee-related in retail, three at jails and prisons, seven in health care and two from religious services.

The state added 8,911 cases and 47 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, including cases from Saturday and Sunday, after hospitalizations reached a nearly six-month high Friday with more than 2,200 adults and 34 children hospitalized with the virus.

Pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co. Inc. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP said Tuesday the U.S. government could purchase an additional 1.4 million courses of the companies' antiviral COVID-19 drug, molnupiravir, if the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency use authorization. 

That highlights the changing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why OSHA's emergency temporary standard isn't the proper response, Studley said: "We know now from having a week to look at the details and specifics and listen to the concerns that have been expressed by business leaders across the state that ETS in Michigan stands for excessive, time-consuming and short-sighted."


Twitter: @BreanaCNoble