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Biden Mandates Vaccines for Federal Workers

He is also ordering large companies to require vaccines or do weekly testing

Brian Young's picture
Sep 09, 2021

With COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc among the unvaccinated, President Biden is taking a huge step and announcing that he will require all federal workers to get the COVID-19 shot.

The President will, as part of his six-step plan to combat COVID, sign an executive order that would mandate that over 2 million federal workers and contractors get their jabs within the next 75 days. This would be the biggest escalation in the war against COVID since Biden took office and would be the largest employer mandate in the country. According to Press Secretary Jen Psaki any worker who doesn’t get a shot would need to file for a religious or medical exemption in that time frame or be deemed to be out of compliance with the order. There will be no testing opt-out for workers.

"If a federal employee fails to comply, then they will go through the standard HR process, which includes counseling, and face progressive disciplinary action," Psaki said. "Each agency will work with employees to make sure that they understand the benefits of vaccination and how the vaccines are free, easy and widely accessible. There are limited exceptions, but the expectation is that if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated. [Hopefully] it doesn't come to [termination], but our role is of course to convey to federal employees the safety, effectiveness, and the availability of vaccines."

The executive order will also direct the Labor Department to draft a new emergency rule that requires all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that all of their workers are either vaccinated or tested on a weekly basis. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines for not complying.

The unions that represent federal workers have been supportive of getting vaccines but are demanding that any mandates be negotiated with the unions.

“Since the vaccines first became widely available, we have strongly encouraged all our members to take one of the several safe, effective vaccines against COVID-19," Everett Kelley, the President of the largest federal union AFGE said. "The data are clear. Getting vaccinated isn’t just the best way for us to end this pandemic, it is the best way for us to protect each other in the workplace. Likewise, since President Biden made his first major announcement about changing COVID-19 protocols for the federal workforce in response to the surging Delta variant, we have said that changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate. Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions.”

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) President tony Reardon said that his union will monitor the rollout to ensure workers are getting time off to get the shot and that medical and religious exemptions are given, but he also seemed to understand that unions likely don’t have a strong leg to stand on to oppose the order.

 “NTEU members, like American society at large, will have differing reactions to the new policy," he said. "Some employees will disagree. Others will welcome the additional security that comes with knowing that all of their coworkers are vaccinated. Either way, the law is clear that employers, including the federal government, may implement a vaccination requirement for employees."

Biden’s order will not only cover workers at places like the Department of Labor but will also cover everyone in the armed services including the National Guard. It will also include all government contractors. While nationally 75% of eligible Americans have gotten one shot, only 53% are fully vaccinated. There are also 45 million children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to receive the shot.

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