Vaccine Mandate Concerns Highlighted by Private Sector Leaders at T&I Republican Roundtable
Republican Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a roundtable today with private sector industry leaders to share their concerns and discuss the potentially harmful impacts of federal vaccine mandates.
“Beyond making it harder for our economy to recover, impossible for inflation to settle, and prolonging the supply chain crisis, these mandates may actually undermine voluntary compliance and are nearly impossible to enforce,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO). “Even worse, they’re making both employers and employees that have kept us moving during the pandemic into the bad guys.”
“We are seeing record inflation, the inability to get people to work and supply chain issues. Imposing a vaccine mandate only worsens the problems. It was helpful to hear directly from those burdened by these flawed policies and to discuss real solutions moving forward,” said Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA), who led today’s roundtable for Committee Republicans.
Participants in today’s roundtable expressed the importance of vaccinations as a tool to combat COVID but expressed opposition to federal vaccine mandates, which they described as ineffective, costly, and unenforceable.
Key Roundtable Takeaways:
Stakeholders noted that using the carrot instead of the stick to incentivize vaccinations is a better approach than mandates. Some participants don’t anticipate vaccination rates among their employees will be significantly impacted further by the mandates, noting that most workers who want to get vaccinated have already done so.
Participants universally expressed support for incentive-based solutions over mandates. “We have a labor shortage in our industry and are concerned about how vaccine or testing requirements will impact the labor market overall,” said Jerry Howard of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
“The Biden Administration’s COVID vaccine mandates are going to make our industry’s existing workforce labor shortages even worse,” said Lauren Atwell, representing the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA). “The loss of any employee, especially critical supervisory positions, could result in major project delays or project shortfalls.”
Ryan Yates, with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), said, “Let us do what we do best. Let us do our jobs.” Yates and others noted that the mandates are causing workers to consider leaving their current positions, which adds to already significant labor shortages and existing supply chain issues. “We have encouraged our members to get vaccinated to keep rural America healthy and keep our nation fueled and fed. However, efforts made in rebuilding the economy and addressing supply chain issues are put at risk if essential workers like USDA FSIS inspectors, port officials, and local FSA staff are involuntarily removed from their positions because of the vaccine mandate. Now is not the time to trim an already lean and specialized workforce,” said Yates.
Stakeholders highlighted that unlike federal contractors, private businesses can opt to test employees who are unvaccinated instead of terminating them, but those costs add up. “We’re really looking at a testing mandate with a vaccination opt-out,” said Jennifer Carpenter of the American Waterway Operators, who noted AWO “companies’ work to keep their crews healthy while maintaining supply chain reliability on the waterways.” NUCA’s Atwell said his company will be spending $3,000 per week for testing his 200 employees. Other participants noted that these types of costs and further supply chain disruptions are adding to the country’s inflationary problems.
Participants also noted that workers often value their privacy and don’t always want to divulge their vaccination status, and other hurdles to employer enforcement. In addition, ongoing changes to the administration’s anticipated timeline and actual enforcement of the mandates promotes employee distrust of the employers tasked with carrying them out, stakeholders said.
Participants and Members noted the fluid and confusing nature of the administration’s deadlines, which can contribute to workers’ mistrust of their employers or the government. “We urge the White House for additional clarity on what happens after January 4. We believe there is a time period for counseling and encouragement of our unvaccinated team members, but would like to understand the Administration’s expectations more clearly,” said Beth Whited of Union Pacific. She noted that employees are wondering, “If I don’t get the vaccine, are you going to fire me? How long is that going to last?”
Full list of stakeholder participants: