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Federal appeals court puts vaccine mandate on hold for now

Court issues emergency stay on Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Transportation industry on edge over potential vaccine mandate (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District issued an emergency stay Saturday on the enforcement of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate..

The appeals court questioned the constitutionality of the mandate in its decision.

“Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby STAYED pending further action by this court,” a court document read.

The Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have until 5 p.m. EST on Monday to respond to the motion for a permanent injunction.

Draft work provided by OSHA on Thursday showed no exemption for truckers to rules requiring that employees of private employers with staff of 100 or more be fully vaccinated, or non-vaccinated employees comply with once-a-week testing and mask requirements.

However, the American Trucking Associations said Friday its interpretation of comments made by senior officials at the Department of Labor indicated the rules won’t apply to most drivers.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear wrote in a Friday letter to membership,“We have received indications from senior Department of Labor officials that the exception for employees who exclusively work outdoors or remotely and have minimal contact with others indoors does exempt solo truck drivers from the mandate.” The letter was included in an email obtained by FreightWaves. 

For several weeks, the transportation industry has been scrambling to determine potential protocols for employees refusing the jab. Most trucking CEOs have said any such mandate would further complicate an already dire market for driver recruitment, hiring and retention.

“We’re preparing and thinking about and modeling what it would look like to route and test,” Derek Leathers, chairman, president and CEO of Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN), told analysts on its third-quarter earnings call on Oct. 28. “Those costs are very prohibitive if that was to be the route that was taken.”

He said the company is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

“These are remote workers that don’t interact with the general public and clearly don’t come near the grave danger test that this entire vaccine mandate was based on, based on the nature of their work, but we’re also going to continue to prepare for worst case scenario,” Leathers added.

The concern is potentially larger for the less-than-truckload market, which has a significant number of employees working the docks of their service centers.

“As far as the mandate goes, that would be extremely difficult, in my opinion,” said Greg Gantt, president and CEO, at LTL carrier Old Dominion Freight Line (NASDAQ: ODFL), on its Oct. 27 earnings call. “It’s either get vaccinated or do the testing. We’re still working on that and trying to figure out how we can accomplish testing the numbers of folks that we would have to test on a weekly basis.

“If you think we’ve got supply chain issues now across the country, that could really throw it into some kind of a crazy tailspin. But we’ll see where it goes, but hopefully, clear heads will prevail at some point.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Todd Maiden.

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Todd Maiden

Based in Richmond, VA, Todd is the finance editor at FreightWaves. Prior to joining FreightWaves, he covered the TLs, LTLs, railroads and brokers for RBC Capital Markets and BB&T Capital Markets. Todd began his career in banking and finance before moving over to transportation equity research where he provided stock recommendations for publicly traded transportation companies.