District judge blocks vaccine mandate for federal contractors nationwide
By Jenny LescohierDecember 07, 2021
Enforcement of a vaccine requirement for federal contractors has been blocked by a federal judge in Georgia, effectively freezing President Biden’s mandates across the country. This development comes amid widespread industry opposition to the government’s vaccine requirements for contractors.
The ruling came down from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia and means that all three major Biden vaccine policies for people not employed by the federal government - the mandates for contractors, certain health care workers and employees of larger companies - are frozen across the country, CNN reported.
The contractor mandate had already been blocked in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee after an order was issued in a separate case.
U.S. District Judge Stan Baker said in the nationwide preliminary injunction order that blocking the federal contractor policy would “essentially, do nothing more than maintain the status quo; entities will still be free to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, and the employees will still be free to choose to be vaccinated.”
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) applauded the ruling.
“ABC’s participation in the case was essential to nationwide and construction industry relief, which would otherwise have been limited to the states that sued,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. “This is a big win in removing compliance hurdles for the construction industry, which is facing economic challenges, such as a workforce shortage of 430,000, rising materials prices and supply chain issues.
“ABC continues to support vaccinations and encourages members to use its Covid-19 vaccination toolkit, resources and guidance for federal contractors to keep workers safe on construction jobsites,” he said.
ABC joined a coalition of states in presenting legal action against the mandate, arguing the executive order exceeds the Biden administration’s authority and is likely to increase costs and undermine efficiency in federal contracting.
On Nov. 18, ABC and its Georgia Chapter filed a motion to intervene in support of a suit filed by the state of Georgia and six other states in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia Augusta Division.
Vaccine mandates could threaten economic boon from infrastructure funding
The chairman of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) testified at a Congressional roundtable that the Biden Administration’s Covid vaccine mandate for private businesses will substantially damage the economic gains promised from the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
“The Biden Administration’s Covid vaccine mandates are going to make our industry’s existing workforce labor shortages even worse,” said NUCA Chairman Lauren Atwell, who participated in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Republican Member Roundtable on the Biden Administration’s employer vaccine mandate on Tuesday, December 7. “The loss of any employee, especially critical supervisory positions, could result in major project delays or project shortfalls. We’re also concerned about government mandates that could affect changes in contracts if our members are unable to have enough employees to work.”
IIJA promises to deliver $1.2 trillion in new infrastructure funds to the states. Every billion Congress sends to the U.S. construction industry will create about 28,000 jobs, according to several studies on federal resource utilization.
There are an estimated 232,000 unfilled jobs in the construction industry today, with 61% of contractor firms reporting project delays because of labor shortages, NUCA said in a statement.
In a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh earlier this year, Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) expressed its position that vaccine mandates would hurt construction.
“AGC and its members fear this ETS mandate could further exacerbate the industry’s workforce shortage and significantly increases project costs and delays to the detriment of any economic recovery and meeting vast infrastructure and building needs,” the letter said. “It must be added that this risk appears to be without any thought towards mitigating its impact in any reasonable way, placing all the risk on covered construction employers.”
Construction officials have stated they are not against the use of the Covid-19 vaccine, just the government mandates.
“NUCA is not opposed to voluntary Covid-19 vaccines and has encouraged industry members to participate,” a statement read. “However, this association objects to mandated vaccine requirements because of the potential for further disruptions to our workforce. Because of the outdoor working conditions found across utility construction projects, the workplace is considered a low-risk environment for flu illnesses.
“A large number of construction workers have indicated they will leave a mandated company (100 or more employees) to go find work with smaller companies not affected by the OSHA standard. These new employees will be welcomed by companies already hard-pressed to find employees for their job openings,” NUCA stated.
“The organization claims mandates also place a tremendous paperwork load on employers, along with significant OSHA fines if this paperwork is incomplete. “The costs that this mandate demands are also going to be shouldered by private businesses. Who will pay for these new requirements, and will the federal government share in these expenses?” it continued.
“You just gave the utility construction industry over $200 billion in resources. Those resources will only be put to work if I have people to perform these jobs,” Chariman Atwell said. “And if I can’t retain the skilled men and women to build these projects because of federal government mandates - that’s something Congress needs to think about.”