Although the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to halt COVID-19 vaccine requirements imposed by local and state entities, the Biden administration’s effort to impose a federal mandate through on order from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could be blocked by the court when it considers an appeal of a circuit court of appeals ruling. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 7 on the federal mandate for health care workers and testing-or-vaccine rules for large employers.
Earlier, an association of telecommunications tower service contractors issued a statement to remind employers that a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate. The ruling dissolves the Fifth Circuit’s stay — which put the vaccine mandate on hold — that had been in place since November, according to NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.
A statement from NATE said that after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling, OSHA released the following statement: “To account for any uncertainty created by the stay, OSHA is exercising enforcement discretion with respect to the compliance dates of the ETS. To provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance, OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the ETS before Jan. 10, 2022, and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before Feb. 9, 2022, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard. OSHA will work closely with the regulated community to provide compliance assistance.”
On Dec. 14, NATE sent a letter to Edmund Baird, associate solicitor for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor. In the letter, NATE said that it had surveyed its members, and nearly 80 percent of are opposed to a federal government mandate that workers be vaccinated.
“While NATE members generally oppose the vaccine mandate, many NATE members are encouraging and incentivizing employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” the letter reads. “Almost 20 percent of NATE members have either paid employees to get vaccinated or are considering similar incentives.”
The letter said the survey affirmed that NATE members are concerned that a vaccine mandate would exacerbate the workforce challenges they are already facing. In fact, approximately 85 percent of NATE members said they believe that some staff would resign if they are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and 30 percent of respondents indicated they would lose more than half of their workers, the letter said.
“Like many other industries involved in the skilled trades, NATE members have struggled to recruit skilled workers,” the letter said. “The possibility of losing a significant number of tower technicians is a serious concern for NATE members, and the potential of losing workers could come at a time when America is investing billions of dollars in broadband projects. Furthermore, this could even impact the ability to deploy broadband and high-speed communications on federal lands and in federal buildings. Many NATE members, approximately 60 percent, either work on federal projects or have in the past, and if they are unable to hire and train workers to complete these federal contracts, then the government’s own broadband goals may be unfulfilled.”
NATE said that its members fear that if national vaccination goals are not implemented in a responsible manner, they could lose a significant number of workers who are vital to building and deploying broadband services to rural, unserved and underserved communities.
“Tower technicians who are responsible for installing, servicing or maintaining critical communications and broadcast infrastructure have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “The men and women who undertake extremely challenging work on communications infrastructure primarily work outside and at elevations that minimize their risk of exposure and immediate interaction with other workers or the public.”
Referring to tower technicians as essential workers, the letter said that the technicians who work on communications infrastructure have ensured that Americans could work safely from home, provide remote learning opportunities, and visit with doctors and healthcare professionals through telemedicine appointments.
“Americans needed tower technicians and communications workers to help lead us through the transition to remote learning and working, and tower technicians did not stop doing their jobs due to the fear of COVID,” the letter said.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.