No, Build Back Better Does Not Specifically Target Companies Who Defy Vaccine/Testing Mandates
This week, a number of right-wing sources claimed that the Build Back Better bill was going to be partly funded by "outrageous" fines against companies who refused to comply with Biden's vaccine and testing mandates — which, quite fairly, require every employer with over 100 employees to require employees to provide proof of vaccination or do weekly COVID tests.
Forbes ran an article with the headline "Biden's Vax Mandate To Be Enforced By Fining Companies $70,000 To $700,000?"
The notorious, Koch-funded rightwing "advocacy group" FreedomWorks published a missive reading:
Over the weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats added a provision to their monstrous reconciliation bill to increase fines for businesses that refuse to comply with Biden's vaccine mandate.
Several other sources also ran with this as their headline.
And some weirdo in my Twitter mentions was citing this as their primary opposition to the Build Back Better bill, which is why I figured it ought to be addressed.
Now, I actually would not be mad if it were true. That would be fine with me. Quite frankly, businesses are probably grateful for the mandate, because it will allow them to require vaccines or testing and go "Oh sorry, can't blame us, it's the law!" Generally speaking, it's not great for business for employees to go around making each other sick.
But the fact is, it's not true. Here's what it does say:
SEC. 21004. ADJUSTMENT OF CIVIL PENALTIES.
(a) OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT OF 11 1970.—Section 17 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 U.S.C. 666) is amended—
(1) in subsection (a)—
(A) by striking ''$70,000'' and inserting ''$700,000''; and
(B) by striking ''$5,000'' and inserting ''$50,000'';
(2) in subsection (b) by striking ''$7,000'' and inserting ''$70,000''; and
(3) in subsection (d), by striking ''$7,000'' and inserting ''$70,000''
These do not refer to vaccine/testing mandates specifically — and may not even apply to them generally. These statutes, in fact, already existed and have existed for years. The only difference is the fines are increasing. These particular fines apply to businesses seriously and repeatedly violating Section 5 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which states:
(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act
(b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.
So it's now going to be more expensive to not care about killing your employees. I say that's a good thing. There's not really a downside for that, that I can see. Even for employers! One would imagine that an unsafe workplace would be a real morale killer, and also a safer workplace means fewer workman's comp claims and lawsuits. And it's obviously good for employees who don't want to die on the job. Those who do wish to risk their lives are free to do so on their own time.
Workers don't have a whole lot of rights in the US compared with other developed nations, but they do have a right to a safe work environment. They do not, however, have the right to exercise "their freedoms" in a way that infringes on the rights of employees to a safe and sanitary work environment or in a way that infringes on customer's rights to expect a safe and sanitary restaurant or shop. They have to wash their hands even if they don't personally believe in germ theory, and they have to wear personal protective equipment even if they have a death wish.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse