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‘My guess is Dane County wasn’t the target’: How the new federal vaccine rule could affect Wisconsin employers

EMPLOYEE

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Department of Labor is drafting a rule that will require every company with at least 100 employees to require those employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19. Even though the details of the plan aren't finalized, Wisconsin business leaders are already preparing for the potential effects.

"We need to be pro-science, and we need to be pro-data, and both of those combined tell us that vaccines are the path forward," Zach Brandon, the president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, said. "But we also have to make sure that, in the pursuit of public health, we don't lose sight of public confidence, consumer confidence, business confidence, investment confidence and the economy overall."

Brandon said the new rule will affect about 150,000 workers in the Dane County area. However, he said he doesn't anticipate the mandate changing a lot for many of the workers.

"A big chunk of that 150 are in those top 10 employers who have already announced publicly that they are going to require vaccines -- Epic, [Exact Sciences], you know, the hospitals," he said.

Even at companies that are not yet requiring vaccinations, many employees in Dane County are already vaccinated. More than 80 percent of adults in the county are fully vaccinated.

"I do think that when the president came up with this idea, my guess is Dane County wasn't the target," Brandon said. "My guess is it's other areas of the country where they see half of what we see from a vaccination rate."

UW-Madison epidemiology professor Ajay Sethi said the new mandate will make a big impact nationwide in slowing the spread of the virus.

"Because of the Delta variant and what it's doing right now in unvaccinated people, this kind of policy will really accelerate having more people vaccinated," he said. "So it's a good idea."

However, not everyone shares Sethi's view.

"Employers should not be forced to police their employees’ vaccination status," Kurt Bauer, the president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said in a written statement. "This proposal unfairly pits employers against their employees, and will almost certainly result in workers quitting their jobs at a time when businesses are already struggling to find workers."

Brandon said he does expect some workers to quit their jobs because of the new rule, but he said he doesn't think it will be a large number. He also said he thinks some workers could opt into the weekly testing exemption instead of leaving.

"Depending on how that happens and how easy that is to do and how expedient that is, that may be a counterbalance against massive resignations," Brandon said.

The Labor Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration are still drafting the rule's final language, and Brandon said he will wait until he knows the plan's specifics before he decides whether he will support it.

Even once that happens, Brandon said he knows there won't be consensus on the rule.

"My guess is there'll be lawsuits and many other things that happen," he said. "The risk in all of that is that it becomes a further dividing line for something that we all should agree on, which is that vaccines are the solution and the only way out of this pandemic."

The Republican National Committee said Thursday it is planning to sue the Biden administration once the rule goes into effect, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he will use "every legal option available" to stop the mandate.