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Idaho workers, must you get vaccine under Biden’s employer mandate? Here’s what we know

Coronavirus

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho employers are struggling to figure out whether President Joe Biden’s new vaccination mandate applies to them and, if so, when and how.

Biden on Thursday detailed a seismic order that will mandate vaccines for everyone at businesses employing more than 100 workers. As an alternative, workers will be able to show a negative result from a COVID-19 test at least once a week.

The order is part of a suite of actions Biden took to curb pandemic deaths and take pressure off beleaguered hospitals in Idaho and other states.

“Today’s actions from President Biden amount to government overreach,” Little said. “Government should stay out of decisions involving employers and their employees as much as possible.”

Businesses and government agencies were still analyzing what the order could mean for workers in various industries across the state.

At least one employer indicated support. Serena Averett, a spokesperson for Scentsy, a Meridian company that sells scented wax and warmers, said the company closely followed the president’s announcement and will await the language of the actual order.

“As with prior government mandates at the local, state and federal levels, Scentsy will support all government requirements that will help us put this pandemic behind us,” Averett said by email.

Another employer expressed no position: Maria Willacy, a spokesperson for Idaho Power, said the utility is “aware of the mandate and evaluating it.”

Albertsons, McDonald’s and the J.R. Simplot Co. did not reply Thursday afternoon to requests for comment.

Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, said getting people vaccinated has been the most important objective. The association, he said, has spoken to its members about doing that.

He said the association doesn’t know yet what it will do in response to the president’s mandate. Speaking by phone a half-hour after Biden’s speech, he said it was too early to tell.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do just yet,” LaBeau said. “We just found out.”

He said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce planned a briefing for Friday. LaBeau said he expects to know more then and hopes to find out when employers will have to begin abiding by the mandate. That wasn’t addressed in the president’s speech.

ARE IDAHO STATE, LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES COVERED?

It was not immediately clear whether state or local governments all under the order. The mandate will come in the form of an emergency order from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose jurisdiction does not extend to state and local government employees in Idaho.

A spokesperson for Little’s office said officials were reviewing whether state employees are subject to the order.

Representatives of Ada County and the cities of Boise, Nampa and Meridian all told the Statesman they too are reviewing the order to see if their employees fall under it.

An Idaho Statesman call to an OSHA spokesperson was not immediately returned.

Fewer than half of the city of Boise’s non-public safety employees are vaccinated, but city officials have not implemented any mandate.

Major Treasure Valley health-care organizations have already required vaccines, including the St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus health systems and Primary Health, who announced their mandates in July. The mandates have led to protests among some health care workers.

Micron Technology Inc., Idaho’s largest for-profit employer, with 5,600 workers in the state, announced Sept. 3 that its workers worldwide must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 or they will lose their jobs.

The Boise Metro Chamber has “encouraged everyone” to get vaccinated since the COVID-19 vaccines came out, CEO Bill Connors said by email.

“Our concern is keeping the healthy conduct of commerce, healthy, both literally and figuratively,” Connors said.

Last week, the chamber announced it will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend the chamber’s annual Gala event in October.

“We did this because we want to have the event and we want to have a safe event,” Connors said. “That said, no government official told us we must do this. Generally, we are not crazy about government telling businesses how to run their business.”

The chamber does not want the growing economy to slow, so Connors said they will continue to encourage all of its members to get vaccinated and “do the right thing for our kids, elders, coworkers and neighbors.”

Idaho Statesman reporter Gustavo Sagrero contributed reporting.

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