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Supreme Court blocks COVID vaccine mandate for large businesses

Ruling comes not long after OSHA clarified that rules wouldn’t apply to solo truck drivers

With the trucking sector having in hand fresh guidance from the federal government that the Biden administration’s workplace vaccination/testing rules don’t apply to solo truck drivers, the rule for now is dead anyway.

The Supreme Court Thursday afternoon handed down a 6-3 decision that the rule promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cannot be enforced and is likely to be rejected in further court action. Some parts of the rule regarding mask wearing went into effect Monday, but a series of earlier court battles had left its status unclear before Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.

While solo drivers may not have been facing the mandate, the guidance handed down by OSHA in the past few days made clear that the rules would apply to team drivers. Now, they no longer need to be concerned about them.

The American Trucking Associations was one of the many plaintiffs in the case and celebrated the ruling.

“Today, ATA has won a tremendous victory on behalf of the trucking industry and workers and employers everywhere,” ATA CEO and President Chris Spear said in a statement. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court validates our claim that OSHA far overstepped its authority in issuing an emergency temporary standard that would interfere with individuals’ private health care decisions. Trucking has been on the front lines throughout the pandemic — delivering PPE, medical supplies, food, clothing, fuel, and even the vaccines themselves. Thanks to this ruling, our industry will continue to deliver critical goods, as our nation recovers from the pandemic and we move our economy forward.”

Under the Biden administration proposal, made last November, the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) would have required COVID-19 vaccinations or a testing regime for employees of companies with 100 or more workers.

“Applicants are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that [the secretary of labor] lacked authority to impose the mandate,” the court said in its ruling. 

Legally, the case, if pursued by the Biden administration, goes back to the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, whose earlier ruling permitted the OSHA rule that is now stayed.

Legislation that created OSHA “typically speak[s] to hazards that employees face at work,” the unsigned opinion said. “No provision of the Act addresses public health more generally, which falls outside of OSHA’s sphere of expertise.”

“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the opinion adds.

A separate mandate requiring employees at certain health care facilities to be either tested or vaccinated was upheld by the court.

More articles by John Kingston

Will team drivers need to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19?

Truckload Carriers warn of vaccine mandates’ far-reaching implications

Drilling Deep: Trucking begins to push back against vaccine mandate

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.