Oregon’s effort to adopt a rule mandating vaccines-or-testing at larger businesses is over for the foreseeable future.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine rule for big businesses. By that evening, officials with Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division had called off state rulemaking as well.
“In light of the Supreme Court decision,” emailed spokesperson Aaron Corvin, “Oregon OSHA will not move forward with adopting the same or similar standard in Oregon.”
The federal OSHA standard would have required businesses with more than 100 employees to either mandate vaccination against COVID-19 or compel unvaccinated workers to test weekly and wear masks at work.
Because Oregon has its own OSHA program, it was supposed to adopt its own version of the federal rule — a version that could have been more restrictive. Oregon employers would have been bound by the state, not federal standard.
Columbia previously told corporate employees in Oregon to be vaccinated by Feb. 1 or seek a religious or medical accommodation. The company says a small group of employees has done neither so far and could be terminated next month.
But Columbia’s vaccine policy doesn’t apply to its retail and warehouse workers, who span the country.
“The Supreme Court’s decision really makes it complicated for us,” emailed spokesperson Mary Ellen Glynn. “We have to comply with a thicket of state and local laws that are often contradictory.”
Jason Brandt, head of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, said he was grateful that Oregon OSHA responded quickly to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Though he called it “quite unfortunate” that many Oregonians remain unvaccinated, Brandt said the federal approach penalized businesses with more employees.
“There’s no question in our mind that a vaccine mandate for some employers would create a staff migration to new employers that don’t have to abide by those same policies,” he said.
While some Oregon employers celebrated the court’s blow to the private-sector vaccine-or-test rule, others forged ahead with their plans.
Vancouver-based Burgerville said it has been prepared to comply with the federal vaccine mandate. The Supreme Court’s ruling shifted the fast food chain’s timeline, but not its plans.
On Friday, Burgerville extended its deadline for workers to get vaccinated. Employees now have until March 14 to get the shots or a verified exemption. Workers who can’t be vaccinated for religious or medical reasons will face weekly testing.
The Standard, a mainstay of employment in downtown Portland, is also sticking to its plans.
“We know that vaccination against COVID-19 remains the single most effective means of protecting ourselves and those around us and minimizing its severity for those who contract it,” said spokesperson Bob Speltz in a written statement.
The Standard has about 2,200 employees in the Portland area, and hundreds more out of state. Earlier this month, the company adopted “a flexible vaccination and testing policy.” Unvaccinated employees will have to show negative test results before they can work on site or attend work events, in addition to wearing masks.
“The vaccination or testing policy we have adopted balances workplace safety with personal choice, and the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and [Thursday]’s decision by Oregon OSHA will not change our approach,” Speltz said.