HELENA — Montana trucking companies say they’re worried that vaccine mandates from the federal government could disrupt their workforce and compound supply chain issues. On Wednesday, they shared those concerns with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, during a meeting in Helena.
“It’s these folks on the ground in Montana that are going to be dealing with the consequences of these mandates coming from President Biden,” said Daines.
Those in attendance were particularly opposed to three separate vaccine policies. One is the decision by U.S. authorities to require COVID vaccinations for Canadian truckers who cross the international border, followed by the Canadian government requiring all truckers to be vaccinated to cross into Canada. Both policies are set to begin in January.
The second mandate, through the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would require businesses with 100 or more employees to either make sure their workers are vaccinated or test them regularly for COVID-19. Business groups and other organizations have filed legal challenges against that rule, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the issue next month.
The third mandate requires employees to get vaccinated if they work for a business that has federal contracts. Business owners said many Montana companies fall under that category as well. Federal appeals courts have put an injunction on that mandate for now.
Trucking industry leaders say it has already become difficult for them to recruit and retain good drivers, and they believe the mandates will become additional obstacles.
“In the trucking arena, you have drivers that drive by themselves – they’re not even around people that much,” said Duane Williams, executive director for the Motor Carriers of Montana. “By mandating it – telling someone they have to do it when they’re not even around a lot of people – they might go find another job.”
Williams said they’ve estimated as many as 25% to 40% of unvaccinated truck drivers may leave their jobs rather than comply with the mandates.
Steve Hanson, of Hanson Trucking in Columbia Falls, says his company frequently hauls wood products between mills in the U.S. and Canada. He says most of his drivers have gotten vaccinated – often reluctantly – but he’s concerned about any new rule that could lead to drivers walking away.
“Two or three people can break a business pretty easily,” he said.
Several business owners said Wednesday that they found their employees were more resistant to getting the vaccine now because of what they saw as overreaching mandates.
“The bottom line is results, so if you want to get results on something like a vaccine, don’t mandate it, allow it to be a personal choice,” said Williams.
Daines said he’s gotten vaccinated himself, and he’s supportive of people getting the shot. However, he criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the issue, claiming their messaging has been inconsistent and arguing some of their decisions haven’t followed the science.
“I think it’s those kinds of decisions that create the loss of trust in the American people,” he said.
He said the economic impacts of the mandates would be too damaging.
“These mandates are going to result in people losing their jobs in Montana, and some businesses even shuttering their doors,” he said. “That’s going to cause more pressure on inflation and further disruption of the supply chain.”
At this point, Daines says he expects the fate of most of these mandates will be determined by the courts. However, he urged those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting to contact U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and ask him to oppose the mandates, saying the state’s senators should be united on the issue.
Tester was one of two Democratic senators who voted with Republicans earlier this month to advance a measure that could overturn the OSHA mandate on large businesses.
“I’ve met with Montana’s small business and community leaders in recent months who have raised serious concerns about the negative effect the private business vaccine mandate will have on our state’s economy at a critical point in our recovery,” he said in a statement at that time. “That’s why I joined a bipartisan majority of my colleagues in defending Montana jobs and small businesses by voting against these burdensome regulations. I strongly urge every eligible Montanan to get vaccinated as soon as possible so we can end this pandemic once and for all.”
However, that measure is considered unlikely to move forward in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, and President Biden could veto even if it passed both houses of Congress.