PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Biden administration’s sweeping new vaccine mandates announced this week are expected to impact tens of thousands of workers in Oregon and Washington.
The president on Thursday ordered all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also have to be fully vaccinated.
Biden is also requiring vaccination for executive branch employees and contractors who do business with the federal government. They will not have the weekly testing option.
Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, a legal expert at Willamette University, called the president’s decision a “bold step.”
“There can be some legal challenges to vaccine mandates but by and large government officials — both at the state and federal level — have convinced courts that in a time of a pandemic, they have the right to go about protecting the public. So with regard to OSHA, which is the federal agency that is designated with protecting workers, there’s a long history of enacting rules to protect workers from things like falling on the job or being exposed to dangerous electrocution, things like that. So if the government has the authority to protect workers from things like asbestos or falling down off of ladders, the government probably has the authority to protect people from a dangerous pandemic.”
Cunningham-Parmeter said unions will likely have a hard time pushing against Biden’s sweeping mandates since they’re coming straight from a federal agency. He said employers who find themselves getting union pushback will likely side with OSHA compliance.
“Federal OSHA sets the rules and then about half the states have their own state version of OSHA,” explained Cunningham-Parmeter. “Oregon is one of those states. And so the requests from the Biden administration has been for OSHA to issue the vaccine mandate, but states can issue their own rules to comply with that. So Oregon can issue its own rules, as long as they are as protective as the federal rule.”
The mandates are expected to affect tens of millions of Americans. KOIN 6 News reached out to Nike, Adidas and Intel — all major players in the Pacific Northwest who have either previously said they’ve encouraged vaccination but have stopped short of mandating it, or have remained silent on the topic.
Tim Boyle, the CEO of Columbia Sportswear, said he was thrilled with the White House’s decision and said Columbia Sportswear has been a big advocate for vaccinating workers.
“We want to make sure that vulnerable people are covered and that, frankly, we can get back to a more normal way of life, a more normal way of working, and that’s only going to happen if we have a high rate of vaccination,” he said.
Boyle said the company has for months tried numerous incentives to encourage its roughly 3,000 local employees to get the shot but not all workers have participated.
“We have to allow for religious exemptions sure, but we have to be vaccinated to come back to work and get ourselves, the state and country back to 2019 as we all remember,” he said. “I would assume most businesses would want to get back to normal.”
KOIN 6 News will update this story with any replies we receive from other major PNW companies.