New Mexico's businesses brace for vaccination mandate ordered by Biden
SANTA FE - The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce wants workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, but it doesn't want the government calling all the shots.
President Joe Biden announced last week he intended to mandate businesses with 100 or more employees to have their workers vaccinated or tested for the disease once a week. The order hasn't gone into effect because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is drawing up rules for it.
Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber wants all eligible people to be vaccinated.
"Our employers have every right to mandate vaccinations within their workforces," Black said. "And we're encouraging them to do so."
One of the toughest challenges facing many businesses now, Black said, is getting workers to return.
And by creating safe workplaces, he said, many of those workers may come back.
Nevertheless, he said, the chamber doesn't support the government placing mandates on businesses.
Even if it's a good business practice to make the workplace safe, he said, "we would prefer that it not be a mandate" from the government.
White House officials said last week there are more than 80 million workers in private sector businesses with 100 or more employees.
The state Environment Department said Monday it was set to oversee compliance when the federal rule goes into effect. The state's Occupational Health & Safety Bureau is part of the Environment Department. That state bureau enforces emergency temporary standards issued by federal OSHA.
The New Mexico Freedoms Alliance is among groups in the state that oppose requirements from anyone to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
"Biden's new vaccine mandates are discriminatory and unconstitutional. These mandates violate the fundamental right to bodily integrity, and prevent informed consent. Everyone deserves the right to make their own medical decisions, free from coercion, threats, or discrimination," Sarah Smith, a member of the alliance's executive committee, said in a statement.
Far from everyone has committed to a course of action. John Traub, general manager of the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball team, said his organization doesn't consider vaccinations for all of those in the larger business category to be a mandate yet.
"As everything keeps evolving, we'll be evolving as well," Traub said.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico wrote in an email that it is "evaluating" the Biden plan.
"As additional information is released, we will determine any potential impacts to our members, customers, providers and our workforce," the insurance company said.
The Public Service Company of New Mexico said it welcomed the president's directive.
PNM Resources instituted mandatory vaccinations or weekly testing for both its New Mexico and Texas employees in early September, Becky Teague, vice president of human resources for PNM Resources, said in a statement.
Company spokesman Ray Sandoval declined to say what percent of PNM employees is fully vaccinated but said "we haven't had any backlash whatsoever."
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the Governor's Office, said state officials had no question about Biden's authority on this matter and "we accept and are grateful for federal leadership on this important issue."
Stuart Paisano, governor of Sandia Pueblo, said Sandia Resort and Casino will be unaffected by Biden's mandate as it has already mandated all employees be vaccinated.
The University of New Mexico wouldn't be affected by Biden's mandate. But spokesman Steve Carr said the university put mandatory vaccinations into effect in early August. Students who are fully vaccinated by the end of this month will get $100 placed into their university accounts.
UNM said it would make accommodations for those who couldn't get the shots because of disability, medical condition or religious beliefs.
Black said he encouraged business owners to do "whatever they can" to increase safety and good health for workers and customers. That, he added, is the best way to keep economic recovery rolling.
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