Some Nebraska government and business officials spoke out Thursday after the federal government provided details of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large employers.
Gov. Pete Ricketts called the vaccine mandate "draconian" and "an abuse of power."
“If this rule is allowed to take effect, many Nebraskans will be at risk of losing their jobs over something that should remain a personal health choice," Ricketts said in a statement.
Biden announced plans for the mandate in September. It requires federal employees and contractors, most health care workers and people who work at businesses with at least 100 employees to get vaccinated or face strict masking and testing requirements.
On Thursday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published an Emergency Temporary Standard that puts rules into place to enforce the mandate and gives covered entities until Jan. 4 to ensure their employees either are vaccinated or undergo weekly testing and wear masks if they work in person.
Companies that fail to comply could face penalties of as much as $13,600 per violation.
U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the rule is needed because COVID-19 has had a "devastating impact" on workers, and case levels remain dangerously high.
“We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19," Walsh said in a news release. "Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”
Companies operating in Nebraska that have implemented mandatory vaccines have had varying levels of success.
Lincoln's Bryan Health reported that out of its more than 5,500 employees, only 10 either resigned or were fired because they failed to comply, while about 300 were granted an exception.
Tyson Foods said last week that 96% of its employees had been vaccinated in advance of a Monday deadline. The company said it planned to terminate employees who didn't comply, but it did not provide a number.
Omaha-based Union Pacific is currently battling its labor unions in court over a proposed mandate that would require employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8.
Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the business community understands that COVID-19 vaccines are important in efforts to get things back to normal, both economically and in daily life, and backs efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated.
However, he said, "We oppose the proposed Biden administration vaccine mandate on employers for several reasons, including cost to employers for enforcing personal decisions outside the workplace and potential impact on an already strained workforce."
But Slone also made it clear that the Chamber opposes any effort by state government to disallow companies from requiring employees to get vaccinated.
“We also oppose bans on vaccine requirements. If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all policy that meets the needs of all states, all communities, all employers or all Nebraskans," he said. "Accordingly, Nebraska businesses must have the freedom to make the decision that works best for them, their operations, and their employees in their communities."
A group of Republican state senators attempted to call a legislative special session to consider a prohibition on vaccine mandates, but they failed to get enough votes.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has already joined with nine other state attorneys general to file a lawsuit over the vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors, and he earlier said he planned to review the federal mandates as they are implemented and was "prepared to take appropriate legal action."
Peterson's office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but Ricketts said he and the attorney general had been in contact about Thursday's announcement.
"We will fight back," he said.
History of vaccine mandates in the US
History of vaccine mandates in the US
1777: George Washington mandates smallpox vaccines for all his soldiers
1809: Massachusetts institutes the first vaccine mandate
1813: Congress establishes the US Vaccine Agency
1855: Massachusetts institutes the first school vaccine mandates
1867: The Urbana, Ohio, board of health passes a law requiring citizens to get available vaccines in the event of future epidemics
1898: The UK’s Vaccination Act allows objections and exemptions to vaccine mandates
1902: Congress passes the Biologics Control Act
1905: The US Supreme Court decides Jacobson v. Massachusetts
1922: The US Supreme Court decides Zucht v. King
1944: The US Supreme Court decides Prince v. Massachusetts
1977: The nationwide Childhood Immunization Initiative begins
1980: All 50 states have laws requiring vaccines for children to attend public schools
1987: The Arizona Court of Appeals decides Maricopa County Health Department v. Harmon
2015: California becomes the first state to eliminate personal belief exemptions to vaccines for children in public and private schools
2021: President Biden announces a sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate