Rochester business leaders on Biden’s vaccine mandate

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — As if companies across the country are not struggling enough with shortages of labor, the president’s new directive is adding another level of stress for employers.

It is an announcement from the White House that is stirring up a lot of controversy, calling for businesses with 100 employees or more to mandate vaccinations among their workforce or face weekly testing. News10NBC’s Jenny Ly heard from local business leaders and experts who question the move.

“It’s going to be significant costs for those employers. Employers have been bearing the costs of the COVID pandemic since the beginning with the additional paid leave programs, income replacements for those impacted by COVID, implementing these procedures to protect their employees. The burden and the cost has fallen to employers since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Center for Human Resources Director Frank Kerbein.

The Business Council of New York state says its 2,500 members have already been proactive in encouraging public health.

“Employers all along have been encouraging their workers to get vaccinated. They’ve been putting incentives in place, there’s discounts, gift cards. Employers have been the ones creative in getting people vaccinated,” Kerbein added.

Not only that, Kerbein says statistics show that workplaces are not the major source of transmission.

“What’s ironic is that while Governor Cuomo was doing his COVID presentations, the statistics show that transmission of the virus didn’t happen at work. Employers have been doing a fantastic job of keeping the workers safe. It is not a place where people get sick. The transmission is occurring in other situations,” Kerbein said.

While it is unknown when the mandate will go into effect, businesses are now scrambling to prepare for yet another regulation, one that is costly with up to $14,000 per violation.

“There’s a lot of stress being put on businesses to establish protocols when in fact the success of a public health effort is on an individual level,” said Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy.

“The cost and risk of not doing it is going to be significant,” Kerbein said.

Representing businesses in nine counties in the region, Duffy says hundreds of companies will be affected.

“For businesses that have really been impacted tremendously throughout the COVID pandemic with economics and profits, what are these costs going to mean for them?” Duffy said.

“I just have this issue of a national mandate for vaccinations because there are people that have valid issues. I’ve listened to nurses and frontline healthcare workers talk about they might not want the vaccine, but they protect themselves. I also respect the rights of the employers making those decisions themselves. These decisions, by and large, are much better put in place at a local level,” Duffy said.

He says the president’s order will also lead to a lot of legal challenges.

“My concern is this overall, overarching national mandate over companies. A lot of the onus is being put on companies and far less on the individuals where it’s really the individual’s responsibilities,” Duffy said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will oversee and issue this emergency temporary standard. The new rule, though unclear when, is expected to impact nearly 133,000 private sector companies, or more than 80 million workers, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.