Jim Irwin summed up what many local public officials and larger employers were feeling Monday as they grappled with complying with federal COVID-19 workplace guidelines, against the backdrop of a U.S. Supreme Court challenge of the controversial standard and a competing order from the Iowa Division of Labor.
“We’re really caught in a pickle here,” the Clinton County supervisor said. “Every employer who has 100 employees or more is caught in a pickle on how they’re going to move forward with this stuff.”
In a flurry of meetings during the past week, local school boards, county offices and large employers raced to get policies in place by Jan. 10 – a first step to comply with President Joe Biden’s requirement that employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face regular testing.
The rule, which is to be enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, applies to employers with 100 or more workers and was set to go into effect Feb. 9. However, recent developments have local officials taking a wait-and-see approach. While many entities have prepared a basic policy to show a good-faith effort — despite not knowing for sure if, or when, the policies would be put in practice — many details remain unresolved, such as how religious or medical exemptions would be applied, when employee testing would be done and who would pay for it, and what penalties would be applied to employees who didn’t comply.
On Friday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments challenging the legality of OSHA’s emergency temporary standards that say employers with 100 or more employees must require employees to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit weekly COVID-19 test results. And while some had expected that court to issue a stay, the court did not take any action, although a decision is expected in weeks if not days.
Meanwhile, Iowa’s Division of Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts said late Friday that he submitted a notice that Iowa will not be adopting or enforcing the federal mandate.
Amid all the flux, school districts and county officials are watching and waiting.
“We will be putting any actions on pause for now until we get more information,” Maquoketa Community School District Superintendent Chris Hoover said on Monday morning. The Maquoketa Community School Board met at noon Friday to discuss the issue. The Northeast School District Board also discussed policy at its meeting last week, as did the Central DeWitt District School Board at a 12:30 p.m. meeting on Monday.
“It’s been stressful around here this past week trying to figure out what it’s going to look like if it moves forward,” said Dan Peterson, Central DeWitt superintendent. While the district was getting prepared in the case the mandate stands, the board decided against voting a policy into place Monday given the fluidity of the situation.
They, along with officials from Clinton and Jackson counties, acknowledged it’s a dynamic situation.
“It’s like a ball on a ping pong table, that’s for sure,” said Dawn Aldridge, Clinton County human resources director.