Many Maryland business groups, unions back Biden’s COVID-19 mandates, with some caveats

As COVID-19 cases began to rise over the summer, Maryland manufacturers faced a wrenching choice.

They could require employees to be vaccinated — a mandate that some companies feared could cause defiant workers to quit. Or they could forgo a mandate and then “they’ve got a bigger problem” if an outbreak developed, said Mike Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, an advocacy group.


Facing such a dilemma, Galiazzo was among a number of business officials and union leaders who said Thursday that they backed — at least in principle — President Joe Biden’s new requirement that businesses with 100 or more workers have their employees vaccinated or tested weekly.

“Companies cannot afford to have folks get sick,” Galiazzo said.


The new federal rule, which is being developed by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was among a number of stringent new measures announced by the president to try to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant.

Biden also required vaccines for federal workers and contractors.

That mandate is particularly significant for Maryland, which ranks behind only California and Virginia in its number of federal employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management. About 145,000 federal jobs are based in Maryland, and many more state residents commute to U.S. government or federal contractor positions in Washington.

In July, the Biden administration said that federal employees and on-site contractors must disclose their vaccination status. Those who didn’t were required to wear masks, be tested once or twice a week and potentially have their travel restricted.

Thursday’s tougher standard was backed by the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers’ union, albeit with an important caveat.

“Getting vaccinated isn’t just the best way for us to end this pandemic, it is the best way for us to protect each other in the workplace,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said in a prepared statement.

But Kelley added: “Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions. We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so.”

Under the White House plan, OSHA also is developing a rule requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated.


That order, along with the private sector vaccine mandate, is in sync with “businesses large and small [that] have been supportive of seeing their employees, except those with religious or medical exemptions, get vaccinated,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

As vaccines are readily available, most businesses also will likely support a reasonable time off for employees to get vaccinated as most recognize it is to their overall benefit to have a healthy workforce,” Fry said.

Under the new federal rule, any private sector workers who are unvaccinated must show a negative test result at least weekly before coming to work.

That is an important option for employees, said Andrew Griffin, vice president of government affairs for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber “continues to encourage Marylanders to get vaccinated because vaccination is the key to getting our economy to pre-pandemic norms. However, we are happy to see that Biden’s plan provides a testing option for those who choose not to,” Griffin said. “We are anxious to see additional guidance surrounding testing protocol and what cost implications, if any, there will be for employers.”

The White House plan was to be reviewed by Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and his administration, spokesman Mike Ricci said.


“But the governor and the health secretary have strongly encouraged businesses to implement vaccination protocols for their employees,” Ricci said. “It is the most important thing the business community can do right now to step up and help keep our health and economic recovery going.”

The new federal vaccine requirements will join similar requirements from a number of Maryland employers. Many county and city governments, including Baltimore and Annapolis, require employees to be vaccinated or take weekly tests. And a Hogan requirement that hospital and nursing home workers prove they are vaccinated or submit to tests took effect at the beginning of September.

The White House strategy included a call for states to adopt vaccine requirements for all school employees. Most large Maryland school systems require employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested.

The Maryland State Department of Education said Thursday that it strongly recommends vaccines for “everyone eligible,” but that the question of vaccine mandates for teachers is “currently determined by the local school system of employment.”

The White House also said it was urging — but not ordering — stadiums, large concert halls and other entertainment venues “where large groups of people gather” to show proof of vaccination or testing to enter.

That recommendation will probably have minimal impact on Maryland’s performing arts groups, which already mostly require that patrons be masked and show proof of vaccination.


Venues from Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia to Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre have independently rolled out new masking and vaccination rules over the summer as they began reopening or making plans to reopen this fall.

”The health and safety of everyone who enters our historic theatre is of the utmost importance and concern,” wrote Ron Legler, president of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, home of the Hippodrome Theatre, in a Sept. 2 news release announcing the venue’s vaccination requirement. “As we continue to monitor current state and national data, we want to do as much as possible to aid in reducing the risk and spread of COVID-19.”

The exception is Baltimore’s museums, which do not require proof of vaccination — though they mandate face coverings as required by city law.

A Ravens spokesperson did not return messages late Thursday seeking comment on the White House’s suggestions regarding stadium entry requirements.

The Orioles, who have promoted vaccinations in their “Take One For the Team, Get the Vaccine” program, said they were just receiving the White House plan and that it would be premature to discuss specific recommendations.

However, the club praised the Biden administration’s “bold leadership in bringing an aggressive, organized, and massive fight to this existential public health catastrophe” and said it would support “any public health policy that helps” end the pandemic.


Baltimore Sun reporters Mary McCauley and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.