Industry News

New Federal COVID Vaccine Rule Will Likely Prompt Construction Workers to Shift to Smaller Firms, Add to Sector's Labor Challenges

The chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr, issued the following statement in reaction to the release today of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new coronavirus vaccine rule:

“This association has been an ardent advocate for the coronavirus vaccine. We were among the first to organize a nationwide coronavirus vaccine awareness week, have worked with the CDC to provide resources and public service ads specific to the construction industry, and continue to take every possible step to urge construction professionals at all levels to get vaccinated.

“Instead of providing additional resources and support to encourage workers to do the right thing, the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandates will make the challenge of vaccinating more construction professionals harder, based on our initial analysis of the measure.

“The rule creates more confusion than clarity. For example, the measure claims to require workers to incur the costs of testing, yet it also says many employers will likely be required to pay those workers for the time spent getting tested. The rule also claims to exempt people who work outside – something many in construction do – but then defines outside in a way that excludes just about every occupation traditionally performed outdoors.

“By opting to have one standard apply to federal contractors, a different standard apply to firms that employ 100 or more people, and no standard for firms with 99 or fewer workers, the administration is doing more to encourage vaccine-reluctant workers to relocate to smaller firms than to get vaccinated. This is something many workers will easily be able to do in a labor market where nearly 90 percent of construction firms are having a hard time finding workers to hire.

“The Biden administration isn’t even clear on whether there is an emergency to justify this rule’s rapid drafting and implementation. On one hand, the narrative refers to the rule as an Emergency Temporary Standard while also labeling it an Interim Final Rule. And while declaring an immediate emergency, the measure also finds the time to ask for comments over the next 30 days.

“We all want to see more people vaccinated and we are all doing our part to make that happen. But this rule will lead many workers to shift jobs to smaller firms while leaving larger contractors with the burden of having to comply with a complex new rule while they struggle to find workers that don’t exist to meet client demands that do.

“The path to ending the pandemic does not lie through confusion, coercion or conflicting mandates. That is why this association will provide comments to this measure designed to fix its many flaws and continue to explore all other possible options to protect the construction industry and the economy from the many risks created by this measure.”