Welcome to 2022 – it’s looking a whole lot like 2021 (and 2020) so far. The Omicron variant officially accounts for 95% of Covid-19 cases in the U.S., which continues to set new daily case records. The year began with 400,000 new reported U.S. infections per day before a holiday-fueled backlog/surge led to a global record of 1 million recorded U.S. cases in less than 24 hours.The labor world’s feeling this chaos, all the way from New York City (where subway routes are shutting down over staff shortages) to hospital-resource cuts throughout the U.S. (including in one Florida community, where an unprecedented shutdown forced labor-and-delivery patients to seek care elsewhere). And don’t even dream of a snag-free airline experience right now: thousands of daily flight cancellations stem not only from Covid-related crew shortages but also wintery weather, leading to over 7,000 cancellations and delays on Monday alone. To complicate matters, Biden’s vaccine mandate (relying upon OSHA as the mechanism to require vaccination or weekly testing for companies with 100+ employees and all federal employees, including contractors) still sows confusion. Here’s where the subject stands:
- Following challenges to the mandate from the Senate, over a dozen states, and an appeals court, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction, effectively putting the brakes on Biden’s mandate until further notice;
- Multiple major U.S. employers, including GE and Union Pacific, responded by beginning to roll back their own vaccination requirements for employees;
- The injunction thwarted a bargaining-chip angle used by unions (which remained divided on compulsory vaccination) while negotiating on behalf of their members;
- OSHA declined to take an official position on the mandate after allowing the lapsing of a Covid-19 rule meant to protect healthcare workers from infection;
- The Supreme Court will soon hold a special hearing (a direct result of the appeals court injunction) on whether Biden’s vaccine mandate lies within his authority;
- NYC continues to require all on-site employees of private businesses to be vaccinated, and the city’s mulling over a booster mandate. Thus far, the Supreme Court declined to block the initial NYC mandate; this development suggests that Biden’s federally-issued mandate could very well make a comeback;
Clarity would be welcome, so stay tuned as 2022 progresses.