How Biden's vaccine mandate could impact owner-ops, independents

President Joe Biden Thursday took his longest step to-date in the ongoing crusade against COVID, announcing that the Department of Labor will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing the rule, which is expected to impact more than 80 million unvaccinated workers in private sector businesses with 100 employees or more, and will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to implement it. Employers, per Biden's rule, will be required to offer employees paid time off to facilitate their vaccination. 

Businesses who fail to comply can face fines of thousands of dollars per violation.

The new rule will still have to pass through the Federal Register, so its effective date is unclear, and governors from various states – including Arkansas, Wyoming and Georgia – are already lining up in opposition.

In announcing the rule Thursday evening, Biden cited Tyson Foods, which employs more than 1,300 truck drivers, as a workforce that's already instituted a vaccine mandate.

Biden noted his plan "will affect 100 million Americans – two-thirds of all workers" and made clear his frustration with citizens who have yet to get at least one jab. 

"What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We made vaccinations free, safe and convenient," he said, noting that more than 200 million Americans have received at least one shot. "We've been patient but our patience is wearing thin."

Biden also announced that there will be enough booster shots for everyone, adding that a nationwide distribution system is ready and as soon as they are authorized, those eligible will be able to get a booster right away for free.

[Related: Fleets reluctant to require vax, but it might not matter]

Biden said he would also sign an executive order requiring vaccination for contractors who do business with the federal government, and they wouldn't have the option to trade vaccinations for weekly COVID testing. 

Biden's COVID-19 Action Plan, the Administration said, is a six pronged initiative designed to increase the vaccination rate, decrease hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 and keep schools and the economy open. Biden also plans to require vaccinations for healthcare workers in places that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. Biden previously mandated COVID vaccinations for military service members. Also Thursday, he called on entertainment venues – sports arenas, large concert halls, and other places where large groups of people gather – to require patrons be vaccinated or show a negative test for entry.

How will Biden's vaccine mandate impact owner-operators and independents?

As the mandate only applies to companies with 100 or more employees, the rule won't apply to most small businesses, including owner-operators. Similarly, independent contractors don't count as employees, and will not be subjected to the new rules. 

But, while owner operators and independent contractors are not directly mandated to take action, drivers at larger fleets are. Because the mandate only applies to CDL holders at larger fleets, some of those drivers may leave their jobs and increase competition among owner-ops and independents. 

Recently, informal polling on Overdrive indicated that 35% of unvaccinated drivers don't trust "elites" and would resist taking the shot under external pressures. Responding to a recent poll by Overdrive's sister publication Truckers News30% of company drivers said they would refuse a mandatory vaccine and force the employer to fire them. Another nearly 17% said they would claim a medical or religious exemption, while 16% said they would quit. Almost 7% said they would comply and get the vaccine. About 25% of drivers polled said they had already been vaccinated. 

According to a survey from CCJ, another relative of Overdrive's, 91% of for-hire and private carrier respondents said they had not mandated that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine and/or agree to undergo regular testing, and almost 60% said they didn’t plan to enact such a measure. Previous reporting from CCJ also indicated that mandating vaccines could badly hurt driver retention

So, while Biden's vaccine mandate doesn't directly impact owner-ops and independents, there move could indirectly impact the segment as thousands of vaccine-resistant drivers may now look to leave larger fleets and pursue their own authority or employment at smaller carriers.

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