As of Friday, businesses in Texas are facing an impossible set of legal requirements, on one hand, the the federal vaccine mandate requires any entity that has a federal contract for business to require all of their employees to be vaccinated along with any business that has over 100 employees and all staff at nursing homes regardless of how many employees it has. And in direct opposition, Texas Gov Greg Abbott issued a state executive order that prohibits any employer in Texas from having a vaccine mandate or vaccine requirement. Businesses that break Abbott’s order face a $1,000 fine. The businesses we talked to seemed uneasy but said they are pushing ahead by requiring employees to be vaccinated.
The legal standing of Abbott’s order is in serious question since the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution trumps state laws. The federal vaccine mandate has been embedded as a temporary standard within OSHA, the federal agency that regulates workplace safety. Greg Rushannon, a republican and part of a a group of small business owners that get together to advocate for their needs at the Texas capital says, “I don’t like having a vaccine mandate, I think flies in the face of personal liberty, freedom, conservative values and self-governance, however, the governor’s order seems completely politically motivated. If you put aside all the stuff that is said and claimed about Covid-19 and the vaccines and only look at undisputed facts and science that both ides do agree with, none of those were reasons given by Abbott as a reason for his order banning vaccine mandates in Texas. He’s up for reelection, this is his play to appeal to the far right side of his base.
American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, In and Out Burger, several Marriott and Hilton brand franchise hotels have all said they are continuing with the vaccine mandate despite Abbott’s order. Smaller mid-sized business we spoke to also said they will be continuing forward with the vaccine requirements including, businesses in the oil and gas industry, finance, insurance, retail and service. Big names like Schlumberger, Chase, Progressive and smaller names most never heard of like Texas Custom Leathers and RTIC have said they too will comply with the federal mandate. Jay Pearce, who owns a mid-sized business in Waco with 157 employees says he feels confident Abbott’s orders will be “slapped down” in court and so he will be following the federal mandate.
We spoke to Troy Alderman, an employment law attorney about the conflict between the state order and the federal mandate. “I don’t believe Abbott’s order will stand the scrutiny of court for a couple reasons. First, federal law overrides state laws. It’s part of the Supremacy Clause of the constitution. Second, Abbott will have to explain and defend his order in court, and based on the reasons he’s given so far, it doesn’t seem to stand up to legal merit. His executive orders must give some legitimate reasons and so far, the reasons he’s given seem more political and less factual. For example, his newest order widens the ability to be exempted from taking the vaccine. Normally exceptions are granted because of serious and legitimate religious beliefs to which one usually must prove they are a member of a religious order that holds such belief according to federal standards, or because the vaccine would cause serious allergic reactions or other serious and imminent medical problems. So far, Christian leaders, Jewish leaders, Islamic leader and leader of many other religious backgrounds have either endorsed the vaccine or said they don’t oppose it for their individual congregants. But in Abbott’s order, people can opt-out for reasons such as simply claiming it’s a violation of their religion without requiring any proof of religion or membership, they’ve already had Covid-19, even though scientist universally say a person who had Covid-19 still needs to be vaccinated. I think he’s doing this so he can say to his political campaign stops attendees that he’s doing something.”
Currently, any business that does business with the federal government that decides to go with Abbott’s executive order will have to give up it’s lucrative federal government contracts in order to stay in compliance with both mandates. In Texas, there are over 6,500 businesses that do work for the federal government scattered all over Texas employing over 500,000 Texans. There are approximately 11 million Texans who work for a business that is covered under the federal vaccine mandate.