Home Politics Biden’s secret weapon in enforcing the federal vaccine mandate

    Biden’s secret weapon in enforcing the federal vaccine mandate

    I remember him running last year on the promise of bringing America together after Trump had torn it apart.

    Now he’s asking workers to narc on their colleagues to the feds if the boss isn’t forcing them to get vaccinated.

    We already knew that informers — or whistleblowers, if you prefer — would play a key role in enforcing Biden’s new mandate. After he announced the rule in September, the media took to pointing out that OSHA doesn’t have remotely the amount of manpower it would need to police eight million job sites employing 130 million workers. The agency is understaffed even in the best of times. Long before the mandate was announced, workers concerned about lax COVID precautions at their place of business were seeing OSHA ignore their complaints or wait many months to conduct an inspection. Sometimes the agency resorts to naming and shaming businesses that violate federal safety regulations in hopes that the bad press will scare other violators straight, further lightening their potential work load.

    Even when OSHA does issue fines, businesses tend to contest them aggressively in court rather than concede that they’re guilty of unsafe work practices. How many such suits can the agency realistically prosecute if it finds thousands of violations of the new vaccine mandate?

    There’s no way for fewer than 2,000 inspectors to conduct proactive inspections of all large American businesses. All they can do realistically is wait for tips about offenders and then react. Which means enforcement of the mandate depends on a key group: Stoolies.

    To enforce President Joe Biden’s forthcoming COVID-19 mandate, the U.S. Labor Department is going to need a lot of help. Its Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t have nearly enough workplace safety inspectors to do the job.

    So the government will rely upon a corps of informers to identify violations of the order: Employees who will presumably be concerned enough to turn in their own employers if their co-workers go unvaccinated or fail to undergo weekly tests to show they’re virus-free…

    OSHA urges workers to first bring unsafe or unhealthy working conditions to the attention of their employers “if possible.” Employees could also file a confidential safety complaint with OSHA or have a case filed by a representative, such as a lawyer, a union representative or a member of the clergy. But they have no right to sue their employer in court for federal safety violations.

    That last bit suggests one problem with the informant regime. If you blow the whistle and OSHA decides not to do anything, even if it’s just because they’re backlogged, you’re out of luck. If workers could file a private cause of action in federal court to enforce the mandate, that would force employers to take it more seriously. But I doubt Congress would have the votes to make that happen even using reconciliation. After all, if congressional Dems were gung ho to get involved in vaccine politics, they wouldn’t be relying on a presidentially-decreed OSHA mandate to require vaccination among workers, would they?

    There’s another problem. “Technically,” said one former top OSHA official, “the law says that companies can’t retaliate against a worker for waging a health and safety issue or filing an OSHA complaint or even reporting an injury. But retaliation is rampant.” That same official conducted a study over a five-month span that found just two percent of complaints about retaliation related to COVID policies were processed by the agency while more than half were dismissed. Employees only get 30 days to file a retaliation complaint, too. Miss the deadline and you’re out of luck. Taken together, your odds of successfully winning a retaliation action are slim.

    How’s that for an incentive to inform, then? If you complain to OSHA that your boss isn’t enforcing the new vaccine mandate, there’s no guarantee that the agency will look into your complaint; no guarantee that they’ll take meaningful action if they do; the real possibility that the boss will retaliate against you for complaining; and a plausible scenario in which he or she ends up facing nothing more serious by way of repercussions than an unflattering government press release.

    So maybe you end up demoted or fired, with all of your anti-vax co-workers hating your guts. Meanwhile, given the insanely polarized vaccine politics of our time, your noncompliant boss could end up making money once word gets around that they refused to implement Biden’s mandate since they’ll inevitably become a cause celebre on the right.

    But maybe that insane polarization cuts both ways? Although there’s little tangible incentive to become an informer, many pro-vaxxers are gung ho to punish the anti-vaxxers in their midst for prolonging the pandemic. Given some of the online discourse we’ve seen around vaccines this year, it’s easy to imagine rank-and-file liberals filing complaints or running to the media about their employer’s meager mandate enforcement for the sheer pleasure of penalizing the refuseniks.

    Then those informers will start getting death threats from anti-vaxxers among the general public. And then they’ll start GoFundMe fundraisers and raise six figures thanks to sympathetic pro-vaxxers eager to reward them for being diligent. You read the Internet every day. You know as well as I do by now how these outrage cycles work.

    Anyway, informers aren’t the real White House secret weapon for enforcing the mandate. Employers themselves are. I won’t belabor the point from last night’s post but it’s a fact that some businesses quietly wanted to require their staffs to get vaccinated but didn’t find the courage to do so until Biden gave them political cover to give the order. Once a company could plausibly say that it was mandating vaccination not because management wanted to but because Joe Biden was forcing them to, there was less to fear in terms of a backlash among employees. Most businesses will implement the mandate without needing OSHA to ride herd, I trust, as a matter of making the workplace safer.

    Assuming the mandate ever goes into effect, that is. Which I continue to wonder about.

    In lieu of an exit question, go read about how Singapore is dealing with unvaccinated holdouts. There are incentives and then there are incentives.


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