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'Extremely difficult on us': Federal vaccine mandate creates negative reaction within area business circles

'Extremely difficult on us': Federal vaccine mandate creates negative reaction within area business circles

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The new federal vaccine requirement announced by President Joe Biden has created mixed reactions among some area business stakeholders, many of whom are not happy about it.

Biden on Thursday introduced an aggressive plan to address the ongoing pandemic amid the rapid spread of COVID-19’s delta variant that includes requiring companies with 100 or more employees to mandate that workers get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID.

The move comes as the U.S. is averaging more than 147,000 daily infections and 1,579 deaths per day over the past seven days. In that same span, an average of 100,000 people in the U.S. are in a hospital being treated for the disease. In Oklahoma, 27,332 documented COVID-19 cases are currently active.

Though the order attempts to protect workers and the public from risk of infection and hospitalization, business owners such as electrical contractor Matt Miller suggested the sudden change would constrain operations.

“Most of my guys don’t believe in the vaccine,” said Miller, who owns Tulsa-based Miller’s Superior Electric. “And they’re telling me if I force them to get the vaccine, they’re going to quit.

“We’re having a hard time finding employees right now all over the state and all over the country. That is going to make it extremely difficult on us.”

Miller, who was hospitalized with a severe COVID-19 infection last fall that “just about killed me,” said the near-death experience did not alter his strong convictions that vaccinations should be a personal choice.

“I live in a free society, and it’s my decision on what I should do,” he said. “I don’t understand why they are pushing the vaccine.”

Some economists believe a vaccination mandate could go a long way in boosting the economy by encouraging consumer confidence after a notable drop in retail sales and heightened stock market volatility amid a record uptick in virus spread.

Mark Snead, president and economist at Oklahoma City-based RegionTrack, told the Tulsa World that nothing can be determined until companies actually incorporate the policies to detect what impact they have.

“We’re waiting to see what happens and what is actually implemented,” said Snead, who explained that the policies might be held up at first if businesses and states decide to pursue legal challenges. “Normally we have a lot to say about everything, but in this case, we’re waiting.”

Under Biden’s order, the millions who work as employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government won’t have the option to get tested instead of taking the vaccine. The order also requires large companies to provide paid time off for vaccination.

The owner of a Tulsa renewable energy company who would identify himself only as Jacob explained that the federal mandate would “permanently disrupt my business and take food out of the mouth of my child” due to concerns over the potential loss of man hours and costs to provide testing.

“I do not appreciate this,” he said about the guidance. “I do not trust the vaccine. It has not been out long enough, and it only recently got (FDA) approval. I am not about to force my employees to be subjected to that. Everyone can make their own decisions as they see fit.”

Bobby Stem, executive director of Oklahoma Association of General Contractors, said the organization “has grave concerns” over Biden’s executive order.

In a lengthy and strong statement, Stem argued that highway construction in Oklahoma would be affected as the order would disrupt completion of infrastructure projects and distress the already-compromised supply chain.

“Yes, we do, and need to, take the new COVID variant very seriously,” said Stem. “However, a blanket mandate on companies with more than 100 workers who do highway construction is grossly unreasonable and not a fit for every workplace.

“This only adds to the distress of road and bridge builders having enough employees on hand to complete essential construction projects vital to our safety and the nation’s supply chain.”

But many companies were already moving toward mandates or at least had strongly encouraged employees to get vaccinated and test when necessary.

The Cherokee Nation, which employs several thousand people, is one of them. The tribe offered a $300 COVID-19 vaccination incentive to workers through an executive order signed by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in May.

“I think at the end of the day this is about protecting our community and our employees,” said Brandon Scott, director of communications at Cherokee Nation Businesses.

QuikTrip, which has about 2,000 employees in Oklahoma, said through a spokesperson that it was awaiting direction from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration before determining its next steps.

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