The start of 2022 comes with labor shortages and a lot of uncertainty for businesses, as they try to navigate the federal vaccine mandates still working their way through the courts. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the mandates, but the high court has been quiet since. In the meantime, employers are in limbo, trying to comply with the mandate while maintaining their work force. The U.S. Postal Service recently requested a waiver from the COVID vaccine mandate, arguing it would cost them thousands of workers and potentially hamper mail delivery nationwide.
We've heard private companies pushing back on the mandates for awhile, but for a federal agency to do so is an admission of just how damaging they can be to productivity. "It seems like anyone, really, who has the ability to ask for an exemption from these mandates, is trying to do so," says E.J. Antoni, economist with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Antoni argues that the vaccine mandates are one of the driving factors holding back the jobs market.
"We're finding that those institutions and industries in which this mandate is being enforced the strictest, are the same areas having the most difficulty filling job vacancies," says Antoni.
Perhaps no industry is dealing with more issues from the vaccine mandates than health care. Many hospitals are now facing a crunch due to the rise in COVID cases from the Omicron variant, just months after firing hundreds of employees over vaccine mandates. "They are laying off people who refuse to get vaccinated, but then replacing them with emergency workers who are also not vaccinated," says Antoni. "It makes no sense."
"Even though the number of people actually hospitalized is lower now than in previous waves, hospitals are technically closer to capacity now, strictly because of the staffing shortage, not a shortage of beds," he continues.
Whether or not the Supreme Court ultimately strikes down the vaccine mandates on legal grounds, Antoni believes the mandates should be ended anyway, simply for being bad policy. "This is just one of a long list of things from the Biden administration that has created uncertainty for business," he says. "And businesses hate uncertainty."