US contractors group sues Biden over vaccine mandates

©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier
Citing higher-than-average vaccine hesitancy among construction workers and a worsening skills shortage, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and two of its chapters in Texas filed suit yesterday in federal court to block the Biden administration’s effort to impose a Covid vaccine mandate on federal contractors.

Although the AGC has vigorously promoted vaccination for all construction workers, it said that with an estimated half of construction workers declaring themselves vaccine-hesitant, such a rule would result in skilled workers leaving the relatively small federal contracting sector for other construction jobs, leading to delays, disputes and higher costs.

One contractor supporting the lawsuit said half its workforce would rather leave their jobs than be compelled to get vaccinated.

Instead of raising vaccination rates in construction, the mandate will leave federal construction projects “struggling to reach completion on time and within budget”, the AGC said.

“We are as eager as anyone to see more construction workers become fully vaccinated,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC chief executive. “But imposing a strict mandate on a small sector of the construction industry will only drive vaccine-hesitant workers out of that sector, and to one of the many other sectors also desperate for more workers.”

Sandherr added the mandate would make federal construction “slower, harder and more expensive”, and would improve neither federal procurement or public health.

The filing includes a motion for a temporary restraining order and sworn statements from seven contractors detailing how the federal contractor mandate is hurting their businesses.

One, Wisconsin-based JMJ Construction Company, which relies on small and mid-sized federal contracts for about a third of its revenue, said half its workforce, including senior management, would rather leave their jobs than be compelled to get vaccinated.

“JMJ finds itself between a rock and a hard place because it faces either losing its employees and subcontractors if it complies with the vaccine mandate, or losing a third of its revenue by no longer serving the federal Government,” stated Bridgette Wiggins, JMJ’s vice president.

Much bigger company Caddell Construction, which relies on US Government work domestically and overseas for 80% of its revenues, said 55 of 350 salaried staff affected by the mandate – about 16% of the total – had so far resisted the company’s efforts to implement it, while six had already left.

“The more employees we lose, the more strained our performance becomes,” stated Eddie Stewart, Caddell’s chairman and chief executive. “It is already difficult to get skilled labourers who can satisfy all of the federal requirements, such as the background and security clearance requirements for access to military bases and other federal facilities.”

The AGC recently released a series of ads featuring construction workers who almost died from the virus urging their peers to get vaccinated. It has urged its member companies to show the videos to all their workers. It also created a vaccine toolkit for the industry.

However, getting construction workers in general vaccinated continues to be an uphill struggle.

As cited in the AGC’s filing yesterday, construction health and safety research organisation CPWR maintains a Vaccination Dashboard displaying data from a daily survey of Facebook users conducted by the Delphi Group at Carnegie Mellon University. For the week beginning 24 October, the survey showed that just 52.5% of respondents who identified as construction workers reported they had been vaccinated, compared to 80.7% of all other occupations. The figure for construction workers has been consistent since May 2021.

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  1. There needs to be a better interpretation on the “100 employees” provision. A contractor can employ 500 workers, but they may be spread out on 20 projects and be further separated into crews. Not to mention employee truck drivers and equipment operators who work completely alone in their trucks or equipment. The mandate needs to specify 100 employees all working within a defined sized area in an enclosed environment. Road and bridge construction that takes place outdoors, needs to be exempt.

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