Trucking industry leaders are largely pleased the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate. But the impact on truck drivers in the freight hauling sector may involve a mixed bag of pros and cons. Perhaps the hottest of the hot-button political and public health debates of 2021, the 6-3 decision by the high court has mostly settled the issue for professional drivers.
Although the Supreme Court was not scheduled to resume its docket until Jan. 10, it took an emergency hearing over the vaccine mandate on Jan. 7. Driven by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) policy, millions of American workers in every sector would have been required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid testing. The Biden Administration insisted companies with 100 or more employees follow the OSHA guidelines.
At issue for the high court was not necessarily the science or effectiveness of the Covid shot and subsequent boosters. The legal question involved whether OSHA has the authority to set such wide-reaching public health policies based on the parameters set by Congress when it was established in 1970.
“The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense. This is no ‘everyday exercise of federal power.’ It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives – and health – of a vast number of employees,” the court opinion reportedly stated. “The Act empowers the Secretary (of labor) to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases.”
The 6-3 majority of justices ruled the vaccine mandates exceeded the powers Congress granted OSHA. However, a second 5-4 decision swung the other way in terms of carving out a healthcare worker exemption to getting the Covid shot. The complicated rulings left truck drivers out of the vaccine equation, in many respects. However, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh pushed back on the loss, insisting the organization possessed the authority to implement wide-reaching public health rules.
“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country. OSHA stands by the Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard as the best way to protect the nation’s workforce from a deadly virus that is infecting more than 750,000 Americans each day and has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans,” Labor Sec. Walsh reportedly stated. “OSHA promulgated the ETS under clear authority established by Congress to protect workers facing grave danger in the workplace, and COVID is, without doubt, such a danger. The emergency temporary standard is based on science and data that show the effectiveness of vaccines against the spread of coronavirus and the grave danger faced by unvaccinated workers. The commonsense standards established in the ETS remain critical.”
How Does SCOTUS Vaccine Decision Impact Truckers?
Most Owner-operators would have been exempt anyway. But truckers working for freight carriers and big-box retailers were likely to be swept up in the proposed rules. And the national shortage of Covid testing kits would have effectively locked out truckers who decline the shot for personal and health reasons.
During the rule-making process, trucking industry leaders engaged the labor department by insisting truckers were immune from such policies. The mandate was originally intended to address workplaces where people were in close proximity to each other. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) made that point abundantly clear and asserted any such rule did not apply to truckers.
“As we made clear in our comments to the Administration prior to the rule’s publication, drivers spend the vast majority of their workday alone in the cab and outside. The rule published yesterday exempts employees who exclusively work outdoors or remotely and have minimal contact with others indoors, and all indications thus far from the Department of Labor suggest this exemption does apply to the commercial truck driver population,” ATA CEO Chris Spear reportedly stated.
Had the vaccine mandate passed judicial review, the rule could have been broadly applied to truck drivers on company payrolls, even though it defied commonsense. The Biden Administration believes that vaccines and mask-wearing are the primary ways to slow the spread and prevent Covid-related deaths.
It’s important to understand that the Supreme Court decision does not necessarily prevent companies from requiring Covid shots, masks, or social distancing in the workplace. Freight carriers and organizations with fleets are simply not required to implement a shot-or-go-home policy. The same could hold true for Owner-operators in terms of allowing unvaccinated truckers inside a facility.
How Does Vaccine Status Effect U.S.-Canada Border?
Given the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a vaccine mandate and trucking industry leaders applied pressure, Canada followed suit. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly faced significant opposition party pressure and the trucking lobby to drop its previous vaccine mandate.
“For some of them, it’s been too much miscommunication. For some, (they say), ‘We’ve been doing this for over two years, I haven’t gotten COVID. I’m in a truck all by myself.’ And for others, it’s a case of religious beliefs,” Shelley Walker, president of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, reportedly said.
Canadian residents who travel south of the border will no longer be subjected to quarantine, testing, or demonstrating proof of vaccination before re-entering the country. According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated Canadian truck drivers arriving at the border are exempt going forward. The same cannot be said for American and Mexican truckers hauling a load to their northern neighbor, a member of the USMCA trade agreement.
Although Canada did not suffer the supply chain bottlenecks experienced at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach in recent months, the movement of goods and materials has been challenging. Manufacturing slowdowns and the rising cost of transportation, among other factors, have driven up inflation in both countries. Reports indicate Canada struggles with 18-year high inflation. Reducing the number of truckers who can haul loads across the border will likely exacerbate the price of goods and materials.
“Feedback from Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) members from across the country over the last couple of weeks indicates the Canadian trucking industry is preparing or bracing for these mandates one way or another,” CTA president Stephen Laskowski reportedly said. “While there’s reportedly a modest uptick of drivers getting vaccinated at some companies, there are substantial reports of higher-than-normal turnover and others declaring their intention to leave the industry or seek employment in the provincially regulated sector over the impending mandate at the border and the recently announced domestic mandate impacting the federally regulated trucking sector.”
Truckers move approximately two-thirds of traded goods between the U.S. and Canada, to the tune of $521 billion. Upwards of 40 percent, or 16,000, American-based truckers will effectively be sidelined due to the mandate, according to reports. In the U.S., truckers reportedly move 72 percent of all goods and materials to communities.
The vaccine issue appears far from completely resolved. For more news and information about truck driving positions, visit CDLjobs.com.