- Construction employer groups are battling OSHA's new vaccine mandate as they double down on encouraging workers to get the shot.
- The Associated General Contractors of America, American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and the Signatory Wall and Ceiling Contractors Alliance (SWACCA) filed a petition for OSHA to review the vaccine mandate, indicating it will put large contractors at risk of losing employees rather than encourage them to get inoculated.
- "We all want to see more construction workers vaccinated and we are all doing our part to make that happen," said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of AGC, in a statement. "Encouraging vaccine-hesitant workers to shift to smaller employers won't improve health and safety. It will just put firms that employ 100 or more workers at grave risk of losing the workers they need to complete projects."
OSHA's vaccine mandate would make all businesses with 100 workers or more face fines — with a maximum penalty of $13,653 per violation and willful or repeated violations carrying a $136,532 maximum per violation — if their employees do not get vaccinated. The mandate was stayed last week and is awaiting a decision by a federal appeals court, but experts have said that trying to wait it out is a gamble.
Construction workers have shown high reluctance for getting the shots, with about 50% saying they were hesitant to do so, according to data from The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). For all other occupations, hesitancy is around 20%.
Construction is facing a decades-long labor shortage, during which almost 90% of firms have reported having a hard time filling jobs as the workforce continues to age. Nearly two-thirds of all construction jobs are with smaller firms, according to the group announcement, and some of those smaller companies have already begun to draw in workers with a unique perk: No shot? No problem.
Scott Casabona, president of SWACCA, said in the statement that the industry supports the vaccines, but described the rule as "unworkable" and "counterproductive."
Dave Bauer, president of ARTBA, praised the Biden administration's passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will pump funds into civil construction. But Bauer lamented that the mandate would hamstring the contractors that have proved they could deliver those projects.
All workers on federal jobs are typically required to be vaccinated, and federal contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18.
In the meantime, AGC is appealing to its members and to construction workers to get vaccinated. In a public service announcement shared by AGC on YouTube, Houston-area construction worker Al Vance shares his experience with COVID-19.
In the video, Vance stresses he had been wearing a mask and had been cautious, but was unvaccinated. Vance caught the coronavirus and nearly died. Now, he's urging others to get the shot.
Vance appeals to his fellow construction workers by asking them to focus on their loved ones.
"That's what I try to make people understand, just because you don't wanna take the shot, well what if you got kids you got a wife, you take that home to them," Vance said. He stressed that people should take an others-first approach, and worry about not only their health, but the health of their coworkers.
In a separate AGC video, Donald Borchert, a bricklaying instructor from Wisconsin, took the same line. Borchert stressed he has an elderly mother and young grandchild, and, like many other people, got vaccinated to protect the people he cares about.
Borchert also encouraged the vaccine from a safety standpoint.
"You wore your hardhat yesterday, right?" Borchert said. "Why all of a sudden are you drawing this line?"