Utah Senate leader worried about possible economic fallout from Biden’s vaccine order

Political pressure on the state to defy or block the vaccine or testing mandate will be difficult to ignore.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton talks about rejecting mandatory vaccines at the Utah Republican Party's Central Committee meeting, Sept. 18, 2021 at Layton High School.

As the order from the Biden administration forcing private employers with 100 or more workers to require COVID-19 vaccinations or implement weekly testing is moving closer to fruition, a top Utah legislative leader worries it will impact an already tight job market.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said the rule from the Department of Labor should be public soon. NBC News reported that could come as early as next week.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, says he wants more Utahns to get vaccinated, but forcing businesses to crack down on employees is not the right way to reach that goal.

“We don’t have enough workers now. Businesses can’t find workers,” Adams worried this week. “This could cause some companies to lose employees.”

While that may be a valid concern, there is very little evidence to back up Adams’ position.

When Biden announced his plan for the vaccine or testing mandate for big businesses last month, there was a lot of talk about workers quitting their jobs if they were forced to get a vaccination. But, when it came down to the choice of sticking to principles or continue receiving a paycheck, most workers quietly complied.

Utah’s employment situation has remained fairly static, even after Gov. Spencer Cox announced he was stopping enhanced federal unemployment benefits early. The extra $300 per week ended in late June. Utah’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in the late summer to 2.6% in August, down from 2.7% in June. An August study found states that ended unemployment benefits early saw little increase in employment rates.

When the Biden vaccination rule finally comes out, Utah political leaders can expect a lot of pressure to do something to push back.

In September, the Utah Republican Party leadership passed a resolution opposing vaccine mandates. Utah lawmakers held a special legislative hearing earlier this month to gather public input on the issue.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the public line up to attend a meeting of the Business and Labor Interim Committee at the Capitol, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021 in Salt Lake City. Over 600 showed up in person spread across the committee room and four overflow rooms.

Hundreds of Utahns packed into several rooms during that hearing, most steadfastly opposed to government-imposed vaccine mandates. Lawmakers were clearly pleased by the turnout, referring to the crowd as a “show of force” as they decide what course of action to take.

“I’ve sat through a lot of public hearings. This was one of the most productive we’ve ever had,” Adams said. “It was extremely positive to have the public come to express their feelings.”

A review of public testimony by The Tribune counted nearly 120 people who gave their thoughts either in person or online. Of those, nearly 90% were opposed to a vaccine mandate. About 8% were in favor and the rest were neutral.

While that may seem like an overwhelming consensus on what course Utah leaders should take, many from the public who spoke cited easily debunked misinformation about vaccines or outright conspiracies. Others used religious-themed language or worried about discrimination against the unvaccinated. There were also unsupported claims that millions of people had died as a result of the COVID vaccine or that women were suffering miscarriages in large numbers after getting the shot.

Despite those public calls to resist or defy, there is not a lot that the state can do to buck the impending Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has threatened a lawsuit. There is also the possibility the way workplace safety is enforced in the state will give them some wiggle room to negotiate with the federal government.