Nebraska Chamber President Against Federal COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, State Bans on Mandates

Oct. 21, 2021, 3:14 p.m. ·

Close up of needle into small bottle of vaccine.
COVID-19 booster shots will be offered today for free in O'Neill, Nebraska (legacy photo)

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Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Slone released a statement in support of businesses choosing how to implement vaccinations in their workplaces. Slone said he's against the federal government mandating vaccinations for federal workers and larger businesses. He's also against states banning mandates altogether -- an idea recently proposed by Governor Pete Ricketts. Nebraska Public Media News' Jackie Ourada spoke with Slone on his announcement on mandates.

Bryan Slone headshot. He is dressed in a dark suit and red tie with a brick wall and part of a window behind him.
Bryan Slone (Courtesy photo)

Jackie Ourada, Nebraska Public Media: Why is the Nebraska Chamber speaking on this now?

Bryan Slone, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President: I think there's really two things going on at the same time that we were trying to respond to today. One is the administration did indicate that it was going to come out with an OSHA rule with a vaccine mandate. The details of that are still not out and are likely to come fairly soon. And so this was in response to what we believe will be the details of that mandate, and we'll certainly take a look at those. But the other piece of it is, you're starting to see some states take a look at legislation which would prohibit the implementation of vaccine mandates and indeed, we had over 20 senators this week, state senators, sign a letter proposing to have a special session to at least discuss that possibility in the state of Nebraska. So you really have two things going on at once: an administration about to release a potential nationwide employer vaccine mandate rule for at least medium and large-sized employers, and then the potential of the state -- at least an interest by a number of senators and having a discussion in the legislature -- about whether to prohibit such mandates at a state level.

Ourada: In your initial statement you said there's not a one-size-fits-all approach. How do you see such vaccination mandates hurting businesses? And what would your ideal vaccination solution be?

Bryan: I think any mandates are likely to hurt business. So, our central position is we're opposed both to an all-employer mandate from the Biden administration on a vaccination subject, just as we're opposed to an all-employer mandate at the state level, which would preclude any vaccination programs by employers. And the reason being is several fold: one to implement a mandate. And we will wait to see the particulars of the Biden administration's mandate, but from the initial indications, the testing program and the administrative program can be extremely expensive and difficult for employers to actually implement. Two, we're in the midst of a historic workforce shortage, and it's likely that any sort of mandate in some industries could have a significant impact on that workforce shortage. And three, a one-size-fits-all mandate from the Biden administration doesn't recognize that, you know, within this country we literally have millions of businesses and in Nebraska, thousands of businesses -- all with different situations, different work environments, outside, inside, lots of employees together, employees spread out, providing different services to different people. And we've learned throughout the pandemic that the sort of one-size-fits-all alternatives can often cause more damage and dislocation than they create good. And so, we generally believe that the employers are in the best situation to understand the particulars of their workplace environment in their community and what's in the best interest of safeguarding the health and well being of those employees. Similarly, if the state were to preclude some mandates that would mean that the industries where, in situations where, a mandate might be appropriate, where it might not be appropriate with other employers, couldn't be an exception. And so we really believe that this is an employer-by-employer decision, based on the particulars of their business, how their employees work and and sort of what the conditions are in each community.

Ourada: In the past week, we're starting to see this play out in the legal system with one of Nebraska's largest companies, Union Pacific, and it's unions. Do you think we'll see more of that in regard to vaccine mandates?

Bryan: I think this is always going to be a controversial issue. It has been so far. But I think again, it's a matter of taking a look at every industry, in every business, and every business is going to have to make those determinations for itself and based upon the rules that apply for that business. In the case of unions, you have the added layer of collective bargaining agreements. And so, those issues will have to work, work their way through, and I do think, to answer your question is, we will see a lot of these issues work out over time. Really what's important now is to have as little government intervention and to not make it more difficult for businesses to operate and employers to seek their work opportunities at this point. And so this is one where I think the business community and the workforce will ultimately resolve these issues in ways that will be much more effective than government mandates.