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Impact of SCOTUS vaccine mandate decision felt in Western New York

The court halted the federal OSHA from enforcing a mandate requiring employees of businesses with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated.

EAST AURORA, N.Y. — The Supreme Court handed down two differing opinions Thursday afternoon involving vaccine mandates issued by the federal government.

The court halted OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, from enforcing a mandate requiring employees of businesses with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated.

In the court's 6-3 majority opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote "under the law as it stands today, that power rests with the States and Congress, not OSHA. In saying this much, we do not impugn the intentions behind the agency's mandate."

Legal analyst Barry Covert told 2 On Your Side that the justices appeared to ask a simple question: Did OSHA have the authority from Congress to impose such a mandate?

"The majority decision held that these requirements, the vaccine mandate, while they may be very beneficial to American society, are not geared primarily toward the place of work of these individuals or are occupational policies. Instead they are broad general policies," Covert said.

The mandate was expected to impact 80 million U.S. workers, but Thursday's stay means that large employers in Western New York will continue not being required to follow it.

The ruling does not prevent businesses from implementing their own vaccine and COVID policies, however, nor does it impact mask requirements like the one currently in place in Erie County.

"This is a great precedent to set and will lay the legal groundwork to say that the federal government doesn't have this power," said Matt Scheiber, a MOOG employee who helped organize an October walkout in opposition to the OSHA mandate.

Scheiber said he wasn't optimistic after hearing the court's opening testimony last week but said he and other MOOG employees were elated when they heard the result. Federal, state, and local health leaders however have all said that vaccination is the best way to prevent severe illness from COVID-19.

MOOG employees protesting the mandate will have another hurdle to clear, however. As a federal contractor, employees may still be required to follow vaccine requirements included in the federal government's Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).

"We're waiting now for the court of appeals ... in the 6th Circuit, and after that, seeing how the courts decide on that case, either we join on and it goes to the Supreme Court, or it gets thrown out, and really then our focus would be making sure that the state doesn't go forward with any of their own mandates," Scheiber added.

The court's second ruling stated that the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did have the authority to issue its vaccine mandate for health care workers, as long as the facility they work in receives federal funding like Medicare and Medicaid.

Both cases including the one Scheiber mentioned will head back to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for further deliberation and a final lower court decision.