News & Commentary

July 28, 2021

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a staff attorney at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2023. His writing on this blog reflects his personal views and should not be attributed to the IBT.

The United States’ mass-vaccination campaign has stalled since hitting its apex in mid-April, a development which has alarmed public health officials in the Biden administration and across the country. In the midst of a fresh surge of Covid cases, then, exhortations that employers compel their workforce to receive inoculations have intensified. The push for vaccination mandates received a figurative shot in the arm on Monday, as the state of California and New York City ordered a collective total of nearly one million public workers in their respective jurisdictions to get vaccinated or else submit to frequent viral testing. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate inoculation, announcing that its more than 100,000 healthcare workers would be required to receive the vaccine.

The NLRB has not expressly determined whether workplace vaccination mandates amount to a compulsory subject of bargaining, although caselaw suggests it would. In response to the mandate, then, NYC’s largest municipal workers’ union asserted that the City must “meet us at the table to bargain.” Mayor de Blasio rejoined that “when it comes to the health and safety of our workers in the middle of a global pandemic, we have the right as employer to take urgent action to protect people’s lives.” On the other hand, the United Federation of Teachers, which represents thousands of public school teachers in the Big Apple, released a statement in support of the mandate.

In other vaccine news, several major U.S. firm have begun bussing employees at their plants in Mexico across the border to receive Covid jabs. While Americans have been awash in unused shots for months, fewer than 20 percent of the Mexican population is fully inoculated, meaning millions of workers toiling just South of the border remain foreclosed from vaccine access. This program, together with the Biden administration’s pledge to deliver hundreds of millions of vaccine doses abroad, represents a respectable effort to mitigate the profound vaccination disparity existing among the wealthy and poor nations, which experts warn may subvert humanity’s efforts to surmount the pandemic.

A new study released by researchers at UCLA uncovered that heat waves, which may become increasingly intense in the coming decades, substantially elevate the risk of workplace accidents and injuries. According to the research, workers — those laboring both outdoors and indoors — are nearly 10 percent more likely to receive an injury on the job when the temperature exceeds ninety degrees. The report concludes that the risk of heat-related workplace injury was highest for low-wage workers. Given that OSHA has not yet promulgated federal guidelines aimed at mitigating the dangers of extreme heat at work, UCLA’s study underscores the need for regulators as well as employers to adopt heat-related safety rules.

In May, Doug Burgum, the billionaire governor of North Dakota, announced that his state would decline the federal government’s augmented pandemic unemployment benefits, a move which precipitated an exodus from the program by over two dozen Republican-controlled states. Internal documents uncovered by the Daily Poster, a progressive news outlet, now expose that Burgum’s decision was, as they put it, a “crass political calculus.” The documents reveal that a presentation prepared for the governor by the state’s unemployment agency a few days prior to his announcement stressed that the enhanced benefits “provide[ ] [a] safety net to almost all ND citizens” and inject millions of dollars in “into [the] ND economy.” Moreover, the presentation conceded that any evidence purportedly demonstrating that the upgraded benefits inhibited hiring was “somewhat anecdotal.” Since the cuts went into effect in North Dakota, the state’s unemployment has remained steady at around four percent. This is consistent with other research indicating that slashing UI benefits has failed to propel labor market participation.

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