Michigan biz group urges feds, state to slow or stop vaccine mandate

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A group of Michigan chambers of commerce is calling on President Joe Biden to reconsider or stall the upcoming release of workplace vaccine mandate rules. 

Short of a pause on those rules, the business groups are asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration to implement the guidelines in a way that is manageable for Michigan businesses and is no stricter than the federal floor. 

The Listen to MI Businesses Coalition, led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, stressed that business associations by and large support vaccination as the best way to control the spread of COVID-19. But the group questioned the wisdom of putting implementation of a mandate on the shoulders of businesses. 

"I don’t think anybody needs to be reminded of how divisive this is and we’re again going to be inserting employers right into the middle of that.” said Andy Johnston of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley talks road funding on May 28, 2019.

Johnston noted that many of the groups involved with the coalition also opposed legislation earlier this year that would have banned employers from requiring vaccines. 

"I think that's important to point out," he said. "We oppose both kind of government mandates when it comes to this question."

The U.S. Department of Labor has been working since early September to establish safety rules to fulfill Biden's request for a vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees. Employees who refuse vaccination must submit to weekly testing  under the rules. 

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, which are expected to affect about 80 million workers across the United States, were sent last week to the Office of Management and Budget, which will review them before publication in the federal register.

Since Michigan has its own workplace safety agency, it will have about 30 days to tweak or implement the OSHA guidelines for use in the state, the coalition said.

Businesses have not been given the opportunity to comment on the OSHA rules as they would have been able to if the guidelines went through the traditional rule-making process, said Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. 

Without that input, Michigan businesses are left with a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to vaccine requirements, which will spell trouble for the state, Studley said. 

"Not all states are alike," Studley said. "Michigan is different, substantially different than Maine or Missouri or Mississippi.

"Not all businesses are alike," he continued. "Manufacturing is substantially different than construction. Construction is substantially different from retail. Retail is different from hospitality. Small businesses have different challenges than major corporations."

The coalition argued there were many unknowns regarding the mandate, including how a company determines whether it has 100 employees, what the availability of tests will be like for those who aren't vaccinated, how long the rules will be in place and whether a scarcity of tests will prevent an employee from working. 

"Under normal circumstances, taking on a mandate of this magnitude would be difficult but we are still very far from normal today," said Nikki Devitt of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce. 

"Expecting businesses to have the human resources to operate such a detailed intensive program under the threat of penalty with the already limited staff and resources they have at a time of economic chaos simply is asking too much," Devitt said. 

Studley wouldn't say whether the chamber was planning litigation over the mandate but he said he expected some trade and professional associations or whole states to challenge the Biden administration over the matter. 

"Here at the Michigan Chamber, we know that it's better to try and develop a good rule than have to go to court later," he said. "We will consider legal action at a later date.”