Are Truckers Really Exempt From Biden’s Vax Mandate or Not?
Washington D.C. — It’s been two months since the Biden Administration rolled out its controversial COVID-19 vaccination-or-weekly testing mandate for employees of large businesses, and yet trucking stakeholders are still unsure if some truckers will be exempted.
Despite initial signs some solo truckers would be exempted, there is still no official confirmation from the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on the matter.
In the immediate aftermath of the unveiling of OSHA’s 490-page emergency temporary standard (ETS) — which forces employers with 100 employees or more to require employees to be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022, or ensure all unvaccinated employees wear a facial covering and provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test each week — many trucking stakeholders pointed to a list of exemptions in the ETS as well as public comments made by DOL Secretary Marty Walsh suggesting some truckers would not be subject to the requirements.
“If you’re a truck driver and you’re outside, you’re in a cab driving by yourself, this doesn’t impact you,” Walsh told Philadelphia media outlet WPVI on November 4. “If you’re a worker outside working in the area, this doesn’t impact you.”
Trucking’s top lobbying group, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), quickly seized on Walsh’s comments calling them a “major victory.”
The group had formally requested truck drivers be exempted from the ETS, and then sought confirmation of an exemption following Walsh’s declaration.
However, here we are now two months later with still no definitive guidance from the Biden Administration on the matter.
In an update on Wednesday, ATA said its request for guidance is “still pending.”
“We continue to seek confirmation from OSHA on the extent to which commercial truck drivers are exempted by the carveout for employees who work alone or outdoors (with only occasional brief indoor contacts with co-workers or customers),” ATA stated.
The update comes as ATA’s legal challenge — filed along with dozens of other business groups including multiple trucking associations — to block the ETS will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) this week.
If SCOTUS declines to halt enforcement of the ETS while the issue is fully litigated, OSHA has indicated it will move forward on enforcing the ETS beginning January 10, but will not issue citations for noncompliance with the testing requirements before February 9, 2022, so long as an employer is “exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”
The stakes are high as violations deemed “willful” or “repeated” could cost businesses up to $136,532 per offense.
Should SCOTUS ultimately uphold the ETS, trucking stakeholders will certainly remind Walsh of his comments, but that may prove to be an ineffective approach given the Biden Administration’s deception on the issue of vaccination mandates thus far.
In December 2020, many within the trucking business community were reassured they would not be faced with draconian mandates when then President-Elect Biden said of vaccine mandates, “I don’t think it should be mandatory. I wouldn’t demand it be mandatory.”
Many in the trucking community are now concerned Walsh’s assurances may turn out to be as untrue as the President’s were.