Several of the country’s largest labor unions are suing over President Joe Biden’s vaccine and testing mandates, not to overturn them, but to broaden them to include more businesses.
Last week, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the AFL-CIO petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the requirements. The AFL-CIO is the largest trade union federation in the United States, and the UFCW is the largest meatpacking and food processing union.
While the unions did not provide arguments in their petition, a spokesman for the food workers union told newspapers that the organization wants the mandates to be expanded to cover as many businesses as possible. The union also wants the new Labor Department rule to exempt employees from having to pay for Covid testing and facemasks. The Biden mandates do not compel businesses to cover those costs.
In a statement, the food workers’ union stated that it wants to “strengthen worker protections to ensure that as many workers as possible are covered, that frontline employees have a voice in how vaccine requirements are implemented, and that employees do not bear the cost of masks, testing, or other critical safeguards needed to keep workers and customers safe.”
Last week in the United States, the Service Employees International Union challenged Biden’s vaccine and testing requirements. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals SEIU Local 32BJ represents 175,000 workers – mostly building security guards and cleaners – in New York, New England, New Jersey, parts of Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Florida and the metropolitan area
In their petition, the service employees stated that the Biden policy “fails to adequately protect all workers who face a grave danger from COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.” SEIU 32BJ President Kyle Bragg stated on Friday that his local wants the mandates expanded to include all businesses.
The Labor Department did not respond to the unions’ lawsuits. In a speech shortly after Labor Day, Biden declared his intention to be “the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history.”
In a conference call with the Office of Management and Budget last month, the AFL-CIO, food workers, and service workers unions lobbied White House officials to include broader worker protections in the mandates, such as ventilation standards and requirements for businesses to ensure physical separation where appropriate. These measures were not included in the administration’s vaccination and testing policy.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will enforce the mandates on behalf of the Labor Department, stated that it set the threshold at businesses with 100 or more employees because it was confident those businesses had the tools in place to comply with the requirements.
However, OSHA has indicated that it may broaden the mandates to include smaller businesses and is considering whether to add additional requirements to protect employees. Through a public comment period, the agency is seeking information from companies that have broader protections in place, as well as businesses with fewer than 100 employees that have vaccination and testing requirements. The Biden administration is now embroiled in a legal battle over the vaccine and testing requirements. As labor unions press for the courts to broaden the mandates, Republican attorneys general from at least 26 states have filed lawsuits in five federal appellate courts to overturn the Biden policy.
The court-ordered halt followed lawsuits filed by Republican attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah, as well as several private companies.
Cases will be consolidated in a single court based on a random draw from among the jurisdictions where petitions have been filed. The Justice Department announced last week that the random selection would take place on Tuesday, at the very least.
The selection process could be critical to the vaccine’s future and testing requirements. While Republican attorneys general have filed cases in federal appellate courts with more Republican-appointed judges, unions have filed cases in courts with more Democratic-appointed judges.
The White House has instructed businesses to continue enforcing the requirements while the legal saga plays out in court. Companies with 100 or more employees have until January 4 to ensure that their employees have received all of the required vaccinations. After that date, unvaccinated employees must submit a negative Covid test weekly to enter the workplace. Unvaccinated employees must start wearing masks indoors at the workplace starting Dec. 5.