Scarier Than COVID: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Yesterday, September 9, President Biden said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was drafting a rule mandating that all businesses with 100 or more workers require their employees to either get vaccinated against the coronavirus or face mandatory weekly testing. That move would affect some 80 million workers. 

I am a long-time supporter of vaccines. At Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) we’re a science and technology company; we believe in science and know that vaccines work: 99 percent of coronavirus fatalities in the United States now occur in the unvaccinated population. 

I am, however, concerned President Biden’s mandate is a huge expansion of federal authority. OSHA is the agency that monitors workplaces safety from electrical shocks, chemical spills and fumes – it is not an agency with health care expertise like the DSHS or the CDC. 

Further, this action places an unfair and sudden burden on already-burdened businesses, employees, and managers. 

Instead of doing our day jobs, we’re abruptly forced to switch to figuring out how to comply, object, and make certain our voices are being heard. 

After 18 long months all of us are strained by the pandemic and managing it daily.  

And, on the solemn anniversary of 9/11 we’re paying our respects while still mourning the terrorist attacks of 20 years ago. 

From the very beginning, I have encouraged COVID testing and vaccination. My wife Beatriz and I have spoken publicly in favor of vaccination.  We both already received boosters, on the recommendation of our physicians, due to some pre-existing conditions. 

I’m proud SEL has administered tens of thousands of COVID shots in our communities.  We’ve been voluntarily testing people from the moment we could get test machines and supplies.  We’re giving shots and testing folks on demand, and were able to donate extra testing supplies to long-term care facilities and a local at-risk youth home. 

We evaluated our SEL campuses and made sure we had people physically distanced and implemented increased sanitization processes; encouraged masks, perfected safe working conditions; and so on.  

At SEL, we’ve avoided rolling mandates out and forcing them on our employee-owners.  With over 5,000 employees around the world, there isn’t ANYTHING that we’ll all agree on.  That’s healthy!  I believe God made everyone of us different for good reasons. 

We believe it’s better to listen, learn, share, recommend, than it is to wait for the state or federal government to tell us what to do.  When good information comes from the government, we of course appreciate it, and put it to work, too. 

From March 2020 through this summer, my number-one job has been fighting COVID: daily internal discussions, and near-daily consultations with our local hospitals, medical professionals, our community and university leaders, and public health officials in several counties and states.  The same can be said for a dozen or more other SEL folks: our health clinic team administering shots and tests, others producing daily COVID updates, ordering PPE and test kits, and coordinating with government channels for vaccine distribution.  

Listening. Collaborating. Learning. Teaching.  In the latter regard, we’ve made videos and welcomed folks from government, charities, etc. to see how we’re running shot clinics.  We’ve had more volunteers than we needed!  Many folks felt elation, gratitude, jubilation, upon getting a shot.  I’ve never seen our communities closer together – heartwarming, at a time when we needed it desparately. 

At SEL, we believe in and trust each other to do the right thing to keep each other healthy, which allows us to help keep the lights on for people all around the world, including schools, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure…in the midst of this pandemic, and in the aftermath of one heck of a hurricane.  

This virus is a common enemy uniting us – whether we choose to get a shot or not.  The choice is yours to make, in conjunction with your doctor and family, with the inputs available to us all.  I believe choosing to get a poke is good for me, my family, my community, our company, our industry, and our country.  If you see it differently and can’t get the vaccine, I may not understand, but I respect you…and we’ll have to work out how to find “reasonable accommodation.” 

The sudden intrusion of the federal government into businesses yesterday creates a new unnecessary crisis for business leaders to manage.  And I don’t believe it does a thing to change a single person’s mind overall.  For every person deciding to now get vaccinated, there’s probably another person thinking about it who digs in his or her heels and won’t. 

What is certain is that this divisive executive action is causing a lot of unnecessary work, triggering a lot of lawsuits – with the bills being paid by taxpayers – and contributing to the present stresses we’re already under. 

We appreciate how we’ve worked together as community members and co-workers throughout the pandemic. So, for SEL, perhaps the hardest burden is the erosion of trust amongst employee owners. We’re being shoved into the role of federal health care enforcer. 

All good companies run on trust. We trust that the vast majority of our workforce has been vaccinated or may have built up some natural immunities from having COVID. Our employees all operate in a manner that protects themselves and their coworkers.  

President Biden proves once again that the most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help.” 

Finally, as I began writing this note, I received the notice below from Governor Brad Little of Idaho.  I appreciate his leadership and his well-written response to Biden’s COVID-19 plan. 

Please join me in supporting Governor Little and defending our freedom to choose.