AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of employees and hundreds of companies in the Austin area are bracing for a new federal vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more workers.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing the rule. There’s no exact timeline on its release, but some groups, like the Texas Restaurant Association, are urging members to be prepared within the next couple weeks.
“Rumors are circulating that the rule will come out this Friday; we believe it’s more likely that the rule comes out in one to two weeks,” the TRA wrote in an email to members Tuesday.
President Joe Biden announced the employee vaccine mandate earlier this month in an effort to curb COVID-19 cases.
He said his job as president is to protect all Americans, and this will protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers.
“It’s been a tremendous challenge in the last 18 months,” said Vijay Patel with Humble Origins Hospitality Management.
He and his team own and operate several hotels in the Austin area. They’ve handled COVID-19 shutdowns and new safety protocols.
“We already strongly recommend our staff get vaccinated. It’s their choice, if they do or don’t,” Patel said.
Now, his team of more than 150 is poised to fall under the federal vaccine mandate for employers.
Patel says about 70% of his staff is fully vaccinated, but he’s making plans for those who aren’t, like sourcing COVID-19 tests for required weekly testing and preparing to shift workers.
“We’re going to try to place our staff at other hotels that may not have to have that mandate,” he said.
While he believes in more people getting vaccinated, he doesn’t agree with the mandate — a position shared by the TRA.
In a statement to KXAN, it says the rule will be a burden on an industry that’s already hurting from the pandemic, a labor shortage and rising food costs.
“…We must acknowledge the burden the new mandate will likely place on an industry that is already seeing its hard-fought recovery reverse because of a critical labor shortage, food costs that are rising at their fastest rate in seven years, and declining revenue. To make matters worse, this announcement comes during the same month when a tax credit that helps restaurants and other small businesses provide paid leave to employees obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine is currently set to expire.“Texas Restaurant Association
“We’re hotel operators, we’re business people, we’re — that’s who we are. We’re not governmental organizations that need to mandate what the free people need to choose on their own to do,” said Patel.
The TRA also says there are many unanswered questions, like:
- How will religious and medical exemptions be handled?
- Is the 100 employee cap calculated per company or per location?
- How will the paid sick leave requirement work?
- Who pays for the testing?
- How will this be tracked?
It’s all another phase of pandemic business Patel is now navigating the way he’s done for the last 18 months.
“It required quite a bit of finesse, quite a bit of staying power, quite a bit of resilience,” he said.
The TRA is calling on the administration and Congress to help restaurants implement this unfunded mandate through things like extending tax credit programs, investing in child care to help people return to work and providing free COVID-19 tests.
It also says the Restaurant Revitalization Fund could use more money, leaving more than 12,000 eligible Texas restaurants without relief.