How many Wisconsin workers could be impacted by Biden’s new vaccine mandate?

Last updated on September 14th, 2021 at 11:36 am

President Joe Biden unveiled on Thursday a new federal COVID-19 vaccine push that will affect as many as 100 million Americans, including employees in the private sector, health care industry and federal contractors.

The new measure will require all private-sector companies with 100 or more employees – which together represents over 80 million workers in the U.S. – to ensure their employees get vaccinated against COVID or get tested weekly.

All federal workers and contractors will also be required to get vaccinated under the new order, which will be issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Companies that don’t comply with the mandate would face a $14,000 fine per violation, Biden said.

The new federal plan comes as the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths continues to rise throughout the country, particularly among the unvaccinated. To date, just under 56% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine; 52% have completed their vaccine series.

In Wisconsin, the new federal vaccination rule could apply to roughly 1.2 million workers, including about 382,000 in metro Milwaukee. That’s based on 2018 figures, the most recent available data, from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which annually surveys private sector employers with at least 100 employees and federal contractors with at least 50 employees. That year, 1,209,412 workers were included in that data in Wisconsin, including 381,584 in the Milwaukee metro.

The number of affected employees could be higher, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, which in 2018 counted 1,739,535 employees in the state working at companies with more than 100 employees, including 545,175 in the Milwaukee region. The Census Bureau’s Statistics of Businesses data covers most private sector employers except for agriculture and railroads. The Wisconsin total represented 66.5% of total employment in the state while the metro figure represented 69%.

The EEOC and Census data, both lagging by three years, don’t reflect the roughly 3-5% drop in employment levels from 2018 to now.

A more conservative picture of the number of potentially impacted workers comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which in March 2021 counted 1,007,066 people working at Wisconsin establishments with more than 100 people. That data reflects the number of establishments – such as a single worksite or factory – in the state, rather than an entire company.

Many large Milwaukee-area employers have voluntarily implemented vaccine mandates for their employees in recent months, including ManpowerGroup, Molson Coors, Northwestern Mutual, BMO Financial Group and all major health care systems.

Still, some business leaders have raised concerns about government overreach in response to Biden’s announcement.

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce said it shares the goal of increasing vaccination rates but warned the new mandate could burden businesses.

“Many Milwaukee region employers already have chosen to require their employees to get vaccinated. Many public-facing venues have required the same of their customers. The same is true at some of our colleges and universities,” the chamber said in a statement Thursday. “However, we are concerned that this new federal requirement for any business with 100 or more employees to require vaccinations or regular testing of their entire workforce is a blunt instrument that will create a significant regulatory and logistical burden for businesses.”

The White House in its announcement cited the success of some large employers’ vaccine mandates, noting that Tyson Foods’ vaccinated workforce grew from 45% to 72% in about a month, following the company’s vaccine requirement.

The federal order is already being contested, with the Republican National Committee announcing plans to file a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the mandates.

BizTimes associate editor Arthur Thomas contributed to this report. 

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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