Owners of several businesses in the state with more than 100 workers joined Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General John Formella at a press conference Monday in support of a state lawsuit against the Biden Administration to stop federal vaccination mandates.
Employers argue they will lose valued employees to smaller competitors who will not face the same requirements, that to pay for $200 weekly COVID-19 testing will add up to $10,000 a year per employee and it comes at a time when they are facing a labor shortage and a lack of current access to COVID-19 testing.
Meanwhile, at a separate public hearing in Representatives Hall at the State House, more than 50 people – some of whom said they will lose their jobs or have already lost them due to the federal mandates – railed against the federal mandates and offered cheers of support to Sununu for taking the Biden Administration to court.
It was mostly opponents of federal mandates for COVID-19 vaccinations who showed up and urged the joint legislative Committee to Examine the Policy of Medical Intervention Including Immunizations to stand up to them and oppose any sort of vaccination mandate.
Michael Burkett of Hudson told lawmakers the Biden Administration is attempting Draconian measures to get more people vaccinated and that it equates to an “outright federal overreach” and noted while the Administration’s line is now impacting businesses with over 100 employees, it is “just a crack in the door,” leading likely to a broader mandate.
Amanda Mastroianni of Merrimack said, “where there is risk there must be a choice.”
She said her husband, a crane operator, has lost work because he is not vaccinated.
Others, Like Eliza Hale of Nashua said her reading is that the mandates are unconstitutional and are leading to discrimination.
But Dr. Jennifer Smith said there are cases, particularly in healthcare, where mandates are necessary. She said it would only take one infected health-care worker to have contact with a pregnant woman to have potentially disastrous consequences.
With more than a handful of bills filed for the next legislative session to prevent COVID-19 vaccinations in schools and workplaces, Smith said, “I urge you not to do anything to interfere” with efforts to get the state out of this pandemic.
Kent Street Coalition co-founder Louise Spencer Tweeted a photo of members on the State House steps in favor of the mandates.
“Patriots one and all showing up to urge our legislature to promote the general welfare by endorsing vaccines, science and sound public health policy,” Spencer said.
At the same hour, Sununu and three business owners met with the press to lend support to the state’s legal efforts to halt implementation of the newly crafted OSHA rules.
A temporary stay in the rule has been ordered by a judge and New Hampshire’s role among 11 states will be part of one large lawsuit which opposes requiring business owners with more than 100 employees to terminate their workers if they will not submit to a COVID-19 vaccination regimen or are unwilling to be tested weekly for COVID-19.
If they keep workers who are unvaccinated and untested the business will be fined $14,000 per violation.
Sununu, a Republican, urged President Biden, a Democrat, to listen to business owners and workers, who he said he believes will be irreparably harmed by the federal mandate.
Amanda Grappone Osmer of the Grappone Auto Group, with 330 full- and part-time team members in Bow, said the issue is not Democratic or Republican, “vaxer or anti-vax” but taking away a personal and local business decision.
“So for 97 years, I feel like our company has been able to thrive and succeed because we listen to our team members, we listen to our guests, we try to integrate what we are hearing and make the changes at our business that we feel are a result of what our team members and our guests want. That is why we exist…so for me, I feel this (getting vaccinated) is a personal decision between our members and their doctors.”
Osmer said she was not sure what percent of her employees are now vaccinated but she said she fears she will lose those valued people to other businesses which are smaller and do not face the same mandate.
Kathy Garfield, president of the Keller Companies, a manufacturing concern in Manchester and Bow for 70 years, said her business with 350 employees would be similarly impacted with workers going to smaller competitors.
Garfield said roughly 50 percent of the workers at her company are not vaccinated.
The mandate, she said, is “a crushing blow” coming at a time when she cannot afford to lose a single employee.
“We cannot force our employees to get the vaccine,” Garfield said, noting some have told her they will not get the vaccine and will not submit to weekly testing.
“How can you run a business when I have no talent?” she asked.
Great NH Restaurants Inc. chief executive officer Tom Boucher, with 750 employees statewide, said the Biden vaccine mandate is “about the federal government putting a wedge, a sharp wedge between me and the employees that I love dearly.”
He said he has never seen such an aggressive federal mandate and said he spoke to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, urging her to look for the language in the 490-page rules which treat his business as a single entity rather than a series of restaurants where no more than 30 work at the same time.
Testing might also be an issue, Sununu said at the news conference, and while the state has added four new COVID-19 testing sites, supply is lagging demand.
Garfield said she went to three facilities in the state last week in an attempt to be tested for COVID-19 and could not get a test.
That lack of access will only be exacerbated if and when the mandate takes effect, tentatively on Jan. 4.
Attorney General Formella said the ruling over the weekend by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is among a number of suits that will be consolidated and the process is unique.
Ultimately, he said, the Court of Appeals will make the final call on whether or not the mandate can be implemented in the coming weeks.
Formella said there are over 750 businesses that this would be applied to with a total of more than 250,000 employees.
“So the impact on the state is broad. That is significant because that is how we show a level of harm necessary to get a stay granted,” essentially holding off implementation.
“We are not asking for money damages at this point,” Formella said, but the state is looking for a stay and ultimately the regulations to be struck down by the court and he said he was pleased with the stay, although temporary.
He said there are several attorneys at the Department of Justice working on this with other states and it is a coordinated, nationwide effort to shut this rule down.
Formella said a separate lawsuit involving the state suing the Biden Administration over rules related to federal contractors and vaccine mandates is going forward but not in the same way as the OSHA rule.
So there are really two suits the state has against federal vaccine mandates now working their way through the courts.
Sununu said if the state loses and the mandate is enacted, the state may find ways to ameliorate the impacts to businesses which could face millions of dollars in added weekly COVID-19 testing for the unvaccinated workers who stay on, but the point is to nip the whole mandate in the bud by taking care of it in court.
Sununu said this is a challenge to the strongest economy in the world which “could bring everything to a grinding halt, and don’t get me started on inflation and supply chain dynamics and all this infrastructure money coming in.”
He said companies that are going to lose 25 percent of their workforce from this mandate will not have the workers to rebuild that infrastructure at the pace the government wants.
“We are but 1/300th the population of America,” Sununu said. “So when we talk about the problem we are facing here, multiply that by 300 and now you get a scope of what this country is going to be dealing with over the course of the next few months.”
(Pictured above: Kathy Garfield, Gov. Chris Sununu, Amanda Grappone Osmer and Attorney General John Formella speak against the Biden Administration Vaccination mandates as detrimental to businesses Monday. At the same time, lawmakers in Representatives Hall heard from citizens who were also mostly opposed to the mandates. PAULA TRACY photo)