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By Geoff Mulvihill | Associated press

With its private employer vaccine mandate suspended, the Biden administration wants multiple challenges to its workplace rule consolidated in a single federal court and has requested a ruling by early next week.

The US Department of Justice said in court documents Monday that one of the federal circuit courts should be randomly selected on Nov. 16 to hear the cases.

At least 27 states as well as several businesses and associations have filed legal challenges in at least six federal appeals courts after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its rules last week. All states have a Republican governor or attorney general.

Over the weekend, judges at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals suspended the rule from coming into force, saying it raised “serious statutory and constitutional issues. “. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre expressed confidence on Monday that the mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine can withstand all legal challenges.

“It is an authority that we believe the Ministry of Labor has,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at a press briefing. “We are very confident about it. “

The mandate would apply to private companies with more than 100 workers. Employees who do not receive the vaccines by January 4 would be required to wear a mask and be tested weekly for the coronavirus. OSHA rules create exemptions for workers citing religious objections and for those who do not interact in person with co-workers or clients, as well as for those who only work outdoors.

Republican state attorneys general and others have sued on the grounds that the federal government does not have the right to make regulations, in part because COVID-19 is not a specific workplace hazard.

Jean-Pierre said the mandate was to keep people safe and that Congress empowered the Department of Labor to act in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Vaccine mandates, including including those for some federal and military employees, are a key part of the Biden administration’s strategy to contain a pandemic that has killed 750,000 people in the United States.
He said widespread immunizations are the fastest way out of the pandemic.

“People shouldn’t wait” to get vaccinated, said Jean-Pierre.

But employers backed down, saying they feared the tenure would lead many of their workers to resign.

At a press conference Monday in Concord, New Hampshire, the president of Keller Companies, a construction panel and plastics manufacturer with 350 employees, called OSHA’s rule “a blow to employers. “.

Kathy Garfield, whose family has run the Manchester-based business for three generations, said she brought a vaccination van to serve employees and gave workers paid time off to get vaccinated. Only about half have done so.

“We’ve had employees come forward and say if we make the vaccine mandatory, or if that happens, they won’t get the vaccine and they won’t be tested. How can I run a business when I have no talent? Garfield asked during a press conference with Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican.

She also said it was difficult to find a place to be tested for the virus. When available, they can cost $ 200.

“It’s the difference between eating and starving,” Garfield said. “So what are these employees going to do? They will go to another employer with less than 100 employees.

The administration announced plans for the workplace rule in September and unveiled the plans on November 4. Many Republican governors and state attorneys general have signaled in advance that they will challenge it immediately, as they have with several federal lawsuits filed on Friday.

States have filed appeals to the most conservative appeals courts in the country, where those appointed by former President Donald Trump have bolstered the Republicans nominated majorities. It was not entirely clear whether the emergency suspension issued on Saturday by the 5th Circuit applied nationally or only to the states that filed this case – Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

The 5th Circuit Order said, “the warrant is hereby suspended pending further action from this tribunal,” but did not specifically state whether it applied only to the five states. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said this applied nationally, but states that have filed in different courts requested clarification on Monday.

“Although the Fifth Circuit order can be interpreted as having nationwide effect, it does not make an explicit statement on this point,” according to a file filed by the state with the court of appeal. 8th circuit of the United States, based in Saint-Louis. “In order to avoid any confusion and to ensure the full protection of their rights, the applicants respectfully request that this Court make a similar order here. “

Alabama, Florida and Georgia also requested a stay Monday at the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, noting that the one granted by the New Orleans court is temporary. The group of states, businesses and organizations challenging the rule in the St. Louis court called for a swift review of their challenge to the rule in the workplace.

“Thousands of employers and millions of working families will immediately feel its impact. The court should act quickly to prevent these unlawful and unconstitutional injuries, ”the groups said in court documents.

Associated Press editors Josh Boak and Zeke Miller in Washington, DC; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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