“Starbucks will no longer require its employees get a COVID-19 vaccine,” reports Reason Magazine:
The announcement follows the Supreme Court’s January 13 decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. OSHA. Following a sweeping executive order that would have required private companies with 100 or more employees to make their workers get vaccinated or submit to regular testing, the Court ruled that the Department of Labor, absent congressional authorization, lacks the authority to enforce such a rule.
Starbucks had imposed a vaccine mandate on its 228,000 U.S. employees in order to comply with that executive order. Starbucks is far from the only company to update its vaccination policies in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling. General Electric (GE) axed its vaccine mandate last week….The clothing manufacturer Carhartt went in the opposite direction, maintaining a mandate for its 5,500 workers….Unsurprisingly, these corporate decisions have sparked both praise and condemnation. Some consumers have vowed to boycott companies for either upholding or abandoning their mandates.
The science makes it clear that the COVID-19 vaccines make both hospitalization and death from the virus far less likely. But there are good reasons for government not to coerce private companies into these mandates. It is a violation of bodily autonomy and an infringement on the rights of private employers. Furthermore, during a labor shortage, many companies are not in a position to eliminate potential hires from their candidate pool.
On June 13, the Supreme Court struck down the requirement that private employers with 100 or more workers get their workers vaccinated or make them regularly get tested and wear masks, in a 6-to-3 vote. The same day, it upheld the requirement that healthcare workers get vaccinated, in a 5-to-4 vote.
In NFIB v. Department of Labor, the Supreme Court ruled against the coronavirus vaccine mandate for private businesses with more than 100 workers (employees who remain unvaccinated are required to wear masks and submit to regular coronavirus testing) that was issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This decision was a 6-3 ruling, with all six Republican-appointed justices in the majority, and the three Democratic appointees dissenting. Here is the pivotal passage in the majority opinion:
Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided. The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense. This is no “everyday exercise of federal power.”…It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.
“We expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance.” …. There can be little doubt that OSHA’s mandate qualifies as an exercise of such authority.
The question, then, is whether the Act plainly authorizes the Secretary’s mandate. It does not. The Act empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures. See 29 U. S. C. §655(b) (directing the Secretary to set “occupational safety and health standards” (emphasis added)); §655(c)(1) (authorizing the Secretary to impose emergency temporary standards necessary to protect “employees” from grave danger in the workplace).
Confirming the point, the Act’s provisions typically speak to hazards that employees face at work….And no provision of the Act addresses public health more generally, which falls outside of OSHA’s sphere of expertise.…
That is not to say OSHA lacks authority to regulate occupation-specific risks related to COVID–19. Where the virus poses a special danger because of the particular features of an employee’s job or workplace, targeted regulations are plainly permissible. We do not doubt, for example, that OSHA could regulate researchers who work with the COVID–19 virus. So too could OSHA regulate risks associated with working in particularly crowded or cramped environments. But the danger present in such workplaces differs in both degree and kind from the everyday risk of contracting COVID–19 that all face. OSHA’s indiscriminate approach fails to account for this crucial distinction— between occupational risk and risk more generally—and accordingly the mandate takes on the character of a general public health measure, rather than an “occupational safety or health standard.” 29 U. S. C. §655(b)…