‘Stunned at the overreach’: McMaster lashes out at federal vaccine mandates, bans agencies from enforcing it

State - Regional

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster is lashing out over the federal vaccine mandates and banned agencies from enforcing it.

McMaster said it’s wrong that the government is “forcing South Carolinians to choose between a vaccine and their jobs.” He called the mandates “overreach.”

“We have been stunned at the overreach of the Biden administration,” McMaster said Thursday.

McMaster issued an executive order to stop cabinet agencies from enforcing or issuing any vaccine mandate. He will also require any agencies to report any communication with the federal government over vaccine mandates.

The executive order applies to the following agencies: Department of Administration, Office of the Adjutant General, Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, Department of Commerce, Department of Corrections, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Insurance, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, Department of Public Safety, Department of Revenue, Department of Social Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Transportation, Department of Employment and Workforce, Department on Aging, Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 

He also said he will be announcing more actions soon against the mandate on private businesses.

South Carolina has previously joined a lawsuit by Georgia over the mandate for federal contractors.

This comes after the government announced Thursday that companies with more than 100 employees will have to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide weekly negative tests by Jan. 4.

After vowing to fight the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate “to the gates of hell,” McMaster is attempting to make good on that promise.

“I have never seen a president go out of bounds, out of bounds of the law as this one,” McMaster said.

Leaders in Horry County are on the same page.

“Horry County will be following his lead just as we have in the past,” councilman Johnny Vaught said. “We haven’t been mistaken in doing that and I don’t think it will be a mistake to continue to do that.”

While the deadline gives employers with more than 100 employees two months to get staff vaccinated, most contacted by News13 Thursday don’t have a plan quite yet and are waiting for more guidance. Those employers do plan to comply.

“If that’s the rule the city certainly will comply,” said Mark Kruea, spokesperson for the City of Myrtle Beach. “I would hope that we already have a lot of our folks vaccinated.”

“So, hopefully we won’t have a large hurdle to go through although we really haven’t surveyed the staff to see whether or not they’re vaccinated,” Kruea said.

Vaught said the county has followed McMaster’s lead during the entire pandemic and the vaccine mandate will be no different.

“I’m not trying to put words in the rest of council’s mouth, but I believe they feel that following the Governor is the right thing to do,” he said.

Conway Medical Center said it is working on updated communication to the team to head toward full compliance. CMC added that most of its staff is already fully vaccinated.

Horry County Schools leaders said they’re waiting on guidance from the South Carolina Department of Education before releasing any plans.

“The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) is aware of the President’s U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard and its potential impact on our state’s K-12 education system given we are one of twenty six states with an OSHA-Approved State Plan that covers all employers,” SCDE said in a statement. “The SCDE has been in communication with the Governor’s Office and the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation concerning the federal Standard and is awaiting further guidance from their offices.”

While Biden said it will be better for the economy if more people are vaccinated, Vaught said it may have the opposite impact on an already-struggling labor force.

“I’m very comfortable with following the Governor’s lead,” Vaught said. “If he were to mandate it, then I would pretty much feel like I needed to go along with it, but I think he’s got better common sense than that. I think he wants to keep the state open. I think he recognizes that the worst part of this thing is over and that it’s time for us to pull up our big boy pants and get back to work again.”

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said the government’s approach is wrong.

“I believe the vaccine is the best way to get our country out of this pandemic,” Dobson said in a statement to News13. “I also believe that employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees. However, the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is the wrong approach, as it will further strain existing resources.”

Read Dobson’s full statement below:

“Earlier today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), at the direction of President Biden, published an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that requires all employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or weekly testing for employees. While the N.C. Department of Labor (NCDOL) adopted verbatim federal OSHA’s June COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare, I am concerned about this new vaccine mandate and its potential consequences for North Carolina.

I received my COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I became eligible, and I strongly encourage my employees and all North Carolinians to get the vaccine. I believe the vaccine is the best way to get our country out of this pandemic. I also believe that employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees. However, the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is the wrong approach, as it will further strain existing resources within the OSH Division and exacerbate the state’s workforce crisis.  

With limited time and resources, our OSH compliance officers typically focus on high hazard industries such as construction and manufacturing. Since March 2020, our staff has been overwhelmed by nearly 5,000 COVID-19 complaints, and even more complaints recently related to the June ETS for Healthcare. Adding enforcement of this vaccine ETS to the OSH Division’s workload without any additional federal funding or compliance officers will further impede our ability to achieve our core mission responsibilities. Our compliance officers should be spending their time working with employers to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities at construction sites and manufacturing facilities rather than knocking on doors to check an employer’s vaccine records.

This ETS would also place an unnecessary burden on employers, many of whom are experiencing an unprecedented worker shortage. Many large employers already require vaccines for their employees, and I respect that decision. However, the federal government should not have the power to make that decision for employers and employees. If this ETS survives legal challenge, employers not only risk losing experienced and capable employees, but they also bear the burden of overseeing the testing process for non-vaccinated employees, in addition to paying for time off related to vaccines and recovery from side effects.

Under federal rules, NCDOL must respond to federal OSHA within 15 days regarding the agency’s decision on adoption of the ETS. At this point, we are reviewing the text of the rule and its potential impact on our state’s employers and will ultimately issue a response by the required date. We anticipate legal action at the state and federal level which may impact NCDOL’s next steps. I am considering all possible avenues and will pursue the option that best serves the collective interests of North Carolina employers and workers.”

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