Leaders of major grocery industry trade groups praised the Supreme Court's Jan. 13 decision blocking the Biden administration's vaccinate-or-test mandate for large employers.
In an unsigned majority opinion, the court wrote, "Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly." That authority, the court ruled, rests with the states and with Congress, not OSHA.
"The ruling is a great relief for our industry as it staves off a burdensome mandate that would have created further disruptions and impaired our members' ability to properly serve the needs of their communities," NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara said in a brief statement following the ruling.
FMI–The Food Industry Association echoed the sentiment, saying it would have exacerbated current labor challenges, which have helped feed operational challenges for retailers and disruptions farther up the supply chain.
"We are pleased the Supreme Court recognized the challenges OSHA's rule would have imposed on food retailers and manufacturers, our employees and, ultimately, American consumers," FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin stated. "The court's decision today to pause OSHA’s vaccine and testing mandate for private businesses will help ensure the food industry is able to continue meeting our customers’ needs as efficiently and effectively as possible amid the ongoing supply chain and labor disruptions."
In November, FMI joined with 10 other trade groups, including the National Association of Convenience Stores, the International Foodservice Distributor Association and the National Retail Federation (NRF), in suing over the mandate.
The vaccine-or-test mandate, issued as an emergency temporary standard from OSHA, called for businesses with at least 100 employees—including part-time and seasonal workers, a key cohort for the grocery industry—to ensure that employees were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or were tested for COVID at least weekly. After legal challenges from states and industry groups and back-and-forth in the courts, on Dec. 17 a federal appeals court panel had allowed the mandate to move forward, with enforcement slated to begin Jan. 10.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the court's majority. In their dissenting opinion, they wrote: "When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. … Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. … Without legal basis, the court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others."