SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is expected to file a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration's occupational safety rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or regular testing.
"There’s a high probability there will be a lot of states that will be looking to challenge that, including Utah," Governor Spencer Cox told FOX 13 in a brief interview on Thursday.
Utah's political leaders have threatened litigation for some time over the rule, ever since President Biden announced it earlier this year. They have repeatedly expressed concerns that the mandate could harm Utah's economy, with people being forced to leave their jobs.
The rule does not go into effect until January 4.
"The mandate the Biden administration issued is a blatant attempt to exceed well-established limitations on federal authority and infringes upon the rights of private businesses and employees. Biden continues to be tone-deaf to a majority of Americans who oppose mandates," House Speaker Brad Wilson, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Auditor John Dougall said in a joint statement.
"Utahns have made it clear they expect the state to oppose this heavy-handed overreach, and each of us will act in our capacities to do so. We will not stand down while Biden disregards the rights of the people and we will continue to stand for civil liberties and freedom in our state."
At a hearing before the Utah State Legislature's Business & Labor Interim Committee last month, legislative staffers estimated there were only 3% of Utah companies affected by the rule — but 65% of the employment base.
"I think it’s going to have an impact not just on companies but on consumers and ultimately all of us, because Utah is a 2.5% unemployment rate," said Derek Miller, the CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. "We’re struggling to find workers and we’re pushing people out of the workforce. It’s going to have an impact on our state and on our economy and the national economy, too."
Miller said the Salt Lake Chamber, which is the state's largest business organization, is pro-vaccine. But it is anti-government mandate. Its membership, which includes some of Utah's largest companies, has had mixed feelings on the federal rule.
"We hear from some businesses that say 'Hey, we like this, it sort of gives us cover to have our employees get the vaccine.' Other businesses who are on the opposite end of the spectrum, they don’t want to have to impose the mandate themselves, they don’t like having federal laws that have to be implemented through business," Miller told FOX 13. "Then you have those in the middle who say we want to let our people do what’s best for them but we’re encouraging them and incentivizing them to get the vaccine."
Lawmakers have faced pressure from some activists to do everything possible to block vaccine mandates. The governor and legislative leaders have said that while they don't like government vaccine mandates, they do support the rights of private businesses who choose to mandate on their own. Still, the Utah State Legislature could take action against vaccine mandates in the form of a bill or a resolution during next week's special session to vote on redistricting.
Some national employee surveys have found that while many threaten to quit, few actually do. Instead, unvaccinated workers go ahead and get the jab.
Gov. Cox told FOX 13 he does believe Utah's economy could be harmed by the rule.
"There’s no question about it. It also puts a negative incentive on businesses who may be are trying to grow right now but want to stay under the 100 person threshold, right?" he said. "And worst of all, again, I just think what he’s doing is unconstitutional. Using a 100-year-old law that has absolutely nothing to do with this at all, and doing it by executive fiat as opposed to engaging the congress on making those types of decisions."