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1.4 Million MN Workers Would Fall Under New Biden Administration's COVID Vaccine Rule

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- More than 4,800 Minnesota businesses would have to comply with an incoming federal rule requiring workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or tested weekly for coronavirus, the state's employment agency said, impacting 1.4 million Minnesotans who have a job.

That's about half the state's workforce, according to figures shared by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. More than 134,000 businesses here have fewer than 100 employees, accounting for the other roughly 1.4 million people in the state's work force. The state said it's waiting for final language to determine if teachers fall under the new requirement and health care workers will face their own mandate.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration will develop a rule creating the requirement for the private sector. There's also a mandate for health care workers to get inoculated if the providers accept Medicaid and Medicare, and for federal employees and contractors.

President Biden announced the latest effort to combat the pandemic on Thursday, saying it's his job as president to protect Americans from the deadly disease. The president had previously urged businesses to adopt their own mandates late last month before taking this significant step in requiring them.

Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said businesses large and small are reaching out to his organization for answers about potential impacts to workforce and costs associated with the yet-to-be written federal rule.

"We didn't expect it to go as far as it did," he said. "I fear this new layer of government engagement or mandate on their business and all the litigation we're expecting now creates this continued level of uncertainty that has a caustic effect on an economy and could drastically slow down our recovery here in Minnesota."

Lawsuits challenging the move by the Biden administration appear imminent. The Republican National Committee threatened to sue once the requirement is in place and Republican governors have made similar pledges.

But Jill Hasday, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, said the Biden administration would likely have a strong argument, citing previous decisions by the courts with deference to federal agencies' rules, like those made by OSHA.

"The law has a long history of taking serious steps to contain contagious diseases and the courts have a long history of upholding those," Hasday said. "What the Biden administration is saying is that as part of OSHA's responsibility pass regulations that maintain healthy and safe workplaces, having a vaccine requirements is part of that."

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry said once the rule is adopted by federal OSHA, the state's agency has 30 days to do the same. Enforcement would be against employers not employees, and it is unclear the degrees of fines businesses would face in rebuffing the federal requirement, a spokesman said.

President Biden said companies that fail to comply could face fines of $14,000 per violation.

About 75% of American adults have at least one dose, according to CDC data. Minnesota's numbers show 72.3% of residents 16 and older have at least one shot.

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