AUSTIN (KXAN) — While some Austin businesses were awaiting the legal ruling for a federal vaccine mandate, others decided to push ahead on their own.
Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a mandate for private employers with 100 workers or more to either enforce a vaccine mandate or weekly testing requirement. The justices said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not have the authority to enforce those rules.
“Some of the businesses along our entertainment district would have been affected for the fact that they do declare several businesses under one one license,” said Bob Woody, president of the East Sixth Street Community Association.
Woody said his 28 businesses are all licensed separately, each with fewer than 100 employees, so he wouldn’t have fallen under the OSHA mandate. But he said he and others like him were still concerned.
“Once you went that way, with businesses of over 100 — well, we’re only 35 less than that. So, it could easily slippery slope its way down,” he said.
Other businesses didn’t even wait for litigation to go through the courts.
The Village at the Triangle retirement community decided to enforce its own employee requirement in the fall.
“Because they’re in a situation where we’re caring for them, it was just important that we equip our team properly for the betterment of our residents,” explained Joel Quade, The Village at The Triangle executive director.
Quade said they offered medical and religious exemptions and didn’t lose any employees. He said now, about 98% of staff is vaccinated.
“[The] stipulation being if they did receive an exemption that they would have to continue to N95-mask, not just mask, and they would have to weekly test as part of their continued employment,” he said.
The U.S. Secretary of Labor, which oversees OSHA, said his department will do “everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers.”
President Biden issued a statement saying it’s now up to states and individual employers to require employees to get vaccinated, calling on business leaders to step up.
“This resolves this mandate, but we may be left fighting the same fight again in the future, “said Robert Henneke, Texas Public Policy Foundation General Counsel.
Henneke was lead counsel for a several parties in the U.S. Supreme Court case.
He said although Thursday’s ruling was a ‘milestone’ win for them, Henneke said the court did not address the overall constitutionality of the federal government’s power when it comes to enforcing COVID-rules.
“As we see a progression of this administration seeking to use obscure statutes to implement these kind of pandemic related mandates, we’re kind of playing Whack-a-Mole until the Supreme Court is willing to address the underlying foundational constitutional questions about the powers of the federal government to implement these types of COVID pandemic mandates in the first place,” Henneke said.
The court still allowed a vaccine mandate for health care employees who work at hospitals or other facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Henneke was not part of that litigation but said he doesn’t agree with the ruling.
According to government estimates, that mandate regulates more than 10 million health care workers in the U.S. It allows for some religious and medical exemptions.