Making sense of Supreme Court’s vaccine ruling

The Supreme Court issued a baffling ruling on Thursday upholding Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds, but struck down an OSHA rule that covered the employers of 80 million American workers.

The next day, Friday, January 14, 2022, former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich (photo, left) explained the court decided that Covid-19 is a “universal risk of daily life,” not an “occupational hazard.” Reich called that distinction “absurd on its face.”

OSHA, which stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a federal agency that sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards (details here).

Reich argued people can choose whether to risk participating in social activities, but “must report to work” if “they want a paycheck,” and the “whole purpose of Osha is to reduce health and safety risks at the workplace … because when it comes to work most people have no choice.”

He asks, “What’s really going on here?” and sees a broader agenda of “gutting the authority of regulatory agencies to interpret federal laws” and retracting a long-standing judicial doctrine of giving deference to agencies’ interpretations of laws enacted by Congress.

Reich summed up, “tough luck if you get Covid at work.” Looked at another way, it will force workers to choose between their jobs or their safety. My immediate reaction to the ruling was that it will exacerbate the worker shortage, a contributing factor of inflation, by making people even more reluctant to return to the workforce.

Read his op-ed here.

Related: In these decisions, Vox says, the Supreme Court “barely even pretended to engage in legal reasoning.” That’s not a court that commands respect. Read their comments here.

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  1. Mark Adams #

    There is also a couple of issues such as Florida law stating no employer can discriminate. Also medical hospitals having to rehire nurses and doctors due to staffing shortages the hospitals created, and funner yet is guard units who are not yet required to be vaxed filling in for fired workers.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Broad-brush statements like “no employer can discriminate” don’t accurately describe the law. You must be specific about what discrimination is prohibited, and get that from the language of the statute, because many kinds of discrimination are allowed. (Vaccination status is an example; even though OSHA can’t mandate employer vaccine requirements, employers can refuse to hire unvaxxed job applicants.) I’m not aware that hospitals are filling staff shortages with unvaxxed workers, or that unvaxxed Guardsmen are being deployed. Note the Supreme Court upheld Biden’s vaccine mandate for health workers, so hospitals aren’t required to rehire fired unvaxxed workers. I haven’t seen news reports that they’re recalling them.