Sec. Walsh on new federal vaccine rules and penalties for non-compliant businesses

The Biden administration on Wednesday spelled out how it will require private businesses to ensure employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, or submit to regular testing. The rule, which would go into effect Jan. 4, impacts some 84 million private sector workers. Amna Nawaz gets the details from Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States has now lost 750,000 Americans to COVID-19, another tragic milestone in the pandemic.

    Today, the Biden administration spelled out how it will require private businesses to ensure that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. The rule, which would go into effect January 4, impacts some 84 million private sector workers.

    Amna Nawaz has the details.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, that rule comes from the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and applies to private businesses with 100 or more employees. It mandates that workers who don't get fully vaccinated get tested weekly.

    And by that same January 4 deadline, 17 million health care workers in facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding must get vaccinated.

    Mayor Walsh is the secretary of labor, and he joins me now.

    Secretary Walsh, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you for making the time.

    So, you're not requiring vaccines for those 84 million private sector employees. They can choose to get tested weekly. If we know shots work, we know that they slow the spread of the virus, they save lives, why not just require them?

    Marty Walsh, U.S. Secretary of Labor: Because what we want to do here is get as many people vaccinated as possible. And we have the option for testing there as well, and testing and also masks.

    So we looked at — we didn't we didn't do a mandate. It wasn't a mandate. The emergency temporary standard, at least it recognizes people in different situations. And, hopefully, we will be able to address all the different situations people might have.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But you did require them for those health care workers, right? There are 17 million who work in those facilities. Why a requirement there?

  • Marty Walsh:

    Because that's a whole different case when we're talking about people working around other people with illnesses. And it was a different set of rules there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And so what if those employees who are required, who don't have the option to just get tested, what if they refuse to get vaccinated?

  • Marty Walsh:

    Well, in the first ETS?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    No, in the second.

  • Marty Walsh:

    Oh, the second.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Specifically with the health care workers, for people who are required to get vaccinated by that January 4 deadline, if they refuse, what then?

  • Marty Walsh:

    Employers will be able to take the action that they think is right.

    And, also, they're working with OSHA right now. And they have done it — they have had a 50-year history of making these rules work.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let me ask you about what we have seen so far from private companies, because some have taken up their own vaccine mandates, right. United Airlines is one we often cite as an example. They have had high compliance.

    But others have not, Walmart, for example, one of the nation's largest employers. I'm curious why you think they have not put into place stricter regulations when it comes to requiring employees to get vaccinated?

  • Marty Walsh:

    I think a lot of people have concerns about, how do we move forward here?

    This is kind of uncharted territory in the last two years with the coronavirus, and there's been different waves of virus increases. And the Delta variant was another one. So, I think a lot of employers didn't exactly know how to proceed. And part of today with the emergency temporary standard, I think it will give some employers a road map on the best way moving forward.

    You mentioned United Airlines and other companies that have put in mandates. This is not a mandate, but they put in mandates. And they're seeing like 85, 90 percent compliance. So, what we're hoping here is that we will see a high compliance rate in companies that might not have any type of vaccine program. This will allow them the opportunity to institute it.

    And then we want to — our bottom line here is creating a safe, healthy — a safe work environment for workers to go to work.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mr. Secretary, what about penalties if companies aren't able to comply, meet that January 4 deadline? Financial penalties? How do you actually enforce that?

  • Marty Walsh:

    Yes, OSHA has a 50-year history of doing these, of compliance and working with temporary standards as we move forward here.

    So, I'm confident in the OSHA process, and we will be working with employers as we move forward here, educating them on what will be their responsibility.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, to clarify, there could be financial penalties ahead for companies who don't comply, correct?

  • Marty Walsh:

    Yes. There could be, yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned those lawsuits. We know Republican attorneys general in a number of states are already ramping up to sue the federal government. They have called this overreach into the private sector. They call it unconstitutional.

    They say it's an imposition on personal choice. Are you confident that these rules will stand up in court?

  • Marty Walsh:

    Yes, we are confident. It was a well-written rule and put together. A lot of thought went into it. And, again, I think that that some of the companies around the country have already begun something like this, and has put in some cases what is a mandate.

    We were very thoughtful when we put this together that it's an encouragement. We're encouraging people to be vaccinated and businesses, obviously, to encourage people to be vaccinated. But there are other options in there, such as testing and masks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about states where the governor is explicitly directing their state department of labor not to comply, Indiana, for example?

    Are you telling those labor offices there to defy their governor?

  • Marty Walsh:

    We're not telling them to defy their governor. This law supersedes their rules in those states.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And what's your message to employers in some of those states, where the leadership may not support these rules and regulations? How can you support them if they're trying to put these rules and regulations in place?

  • Marty Walsh:

    I have done a few interviews today. And everyone keeps focusing on the other side, that employers that don't want to put these cases in and employers that don't want to run these.

    I actually feel that there are more employees in — employers in this country that want these rules and want to institute these rules. And now we have the ability to do that. And I think that there are more people in this country that are supportive of vaccines and supportive of testing than not.

    And I think that, as we move forward here, I'm going to stay positive on this and just continue to work with businesses and work with individuals and encourage people to get vaccinated until we're on the other side of this virus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's the secretary of labor, Marty Walsh, joining us tonight.

    Secretary Walsh, thank you so much for your time. Good to have you.

  • Marty Walsh:

    Thank you.

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