While the Biden administration continues to issue vaccine mandates for the public and private sectors, USDA and other federal departments so far are not releasing information about how much of their workforce has provided proof of vaccination.
The Biden administration issued orders Thursday through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to force companies with 100 or more employees to have their workers fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or test their workers for the virus weekly and require them to wear a mask. The mandate will cover roughly 84 million workers. The rules will also be stronger for workers in hospitals or nursing homes because those workers will not have the option to choose testing.
USDA informed employees back September that they would be required to provide proof of vaccination by Nov. 22. By Monday, Nov. 8, USDA employees are required to have either their second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer shots, or receive the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The vaccine requirements apply to employees as well as all Farm Service Agency state and county committee members and advisors as well.
So far, USDA's press office has not responded to questions about what percentage of employees at its different agencies have reported as vaccinated. USDA is not alone. I checked with a reporter covering other federal departments and so far, they are not releasing numbers.
There is more than just a bit of irony here. The Biden administration is issuing vaccine mandates for private workers, but declining to provide any updates on just how many federal workers are vaccinated. Yet, the White House touts vaccination rates released by private employers such as United Airlines, Tyson Foods and others.
Concerns were raised about staffing at Farm Service Agency offices nationally when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before the House Agriculture Committee in early October. Those concerns persist as more reports come out about possible FSA staff or committee members resigning rather than getting vaccinated.
For now, USDA's press office has responded by ignoring questions about how the department's employees are complying with a presidential executive order. At some point in the near future, USDA and all federal departments are going to have to share information about how workers complied with the vaccine mandate. Will there be an FSA staffing shortage? How about meat inspectors? We'll see.
On Thursday's OSHA announcement, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said Biden's latest vaccine requirements on companies is a good first step, but the union called on the administration and employers to go farther by providing paid time off for vaccines, as well as paid personal protective equipment as well. UFCW noted the union negotiated with Tyson Foods on its vaccine mandate, which resulted in 96% of Tyson's workers being vaccinated.
"America's frontline food and retail workers have faced extreme health risks throughout the pandemic," said Marc Perrone, president of the UFCW International. "Today's action from the Biden Administration, while not going far enough, is a critical first step to keep workers safe on the job as COVID-19 dangers continue. As the largest union for frontline essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants, UFCW has long said that voluntary workplace safety guidance was not enough and that a clear and enforceable standard was vital to hold companies accountable for the safety of their workers."
The New York Times spotlighted how Tyson got 60,500 workers to become vaccinated after announcing a mandate in August. Roughly 96% of Tyson's 120,000 workers are now vaccinated. https://www.nytimes.com/…
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) stated the new OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard will help protect its workers in the grocery, pharmacy, retail, food service, food processing, distribution and nursing home facilities around the country.
"The science shows the greatest protection against severe illness and death to COVID-19 workers can take for themselves and their families is to get vaccinated," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU. "Our union has been negotiating terms for workers around vaccine mandates across many industries and this new standard will provide a unilateral standard, which includes an option to adopt a testing protocol and face coverings for workers who cannot be vaccinated. This ETS is a necessary win for workers who for too long under the last administration were left on the line unprotected."
Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said he was disappointed in OSHA's announcement, stating that it "fails to adopt several commonsense accommodations to recognize the unique nature of agriculture." Conner added the compliance deadline does take into account harvest and exempts employees that work exclusively outdoors, but implementing the standard will be disruptive and there are no provisions to ensure the integrity of the food and agriculture supply chain. NCFC will be providing OSHA with comments to outline the group's concerns.
Nationally right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 193 million people over age 12 are fully vaccinated, or about 68.1% of the population.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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