CLINTON — Although Clinton County officials last week approved OSHA’s federally proposed COVID-19 vaccine, testing and masking policy, they will hold off on enforcing it on county workers in light of Iowa OSHA’s announcement that it will not enforce the policy.
Last Friday afternoon, Iowa OSHA announced it was not going to enforce the requirements in the federal policy, Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Jim Irwin Jr. said Monday. Under the policy, state OSHA cannot enforce lesser penalties than in the federal OSHA policy, Irwin noted.
“From my perspective, I think we need to move forward with implementing the policy that we talked about last week,” Irwin said. “But yet we will not enforce anything until either the Supreme Court or the federal OSHA makes Iowa OSHA follow suit. I don’t know. I mean that’s why I want to have the discussion.”
Human Resources Director Dawn Aldridge suggested the county put language in the preface of the policy stating that they will not start enforcement until closer to February. She asked if the Supervisors want the disciplinary action portion of the policy taken out with language that it will be determined at a later date.
Clinton County Supervisor Dan Srp believes the board was pretty adamant that the county was not going to implement the policy until Feb. 9. This is when the county was required to start the policy if federal OSHA is able to have the impact at the state level, Srp noted. They tried to caution they were going to continue to monitor developments locally and federally, he said. They supported adapting appropriately to any new developments, he added.
“I don’t think any of us felt real concrete on the status of this thing and how it’s going to play out,” Srp said. “There’s just too many variables. None of us has the right crystal ball to be able to see how this is going to go. I do understand that we were all generally wanting to safeguard the county from significant fines and penalties and that’s why we were willing to look at this. Trying to protect the taxpayers. Trying to protect the county from the impact of penalties and fines.”
There was discussion about the concern of potentially losing great employees and the cost of having to onboard and train new employees, Srp added.
Irwin also was not interested in determining consequences at this point, he said.
With support for language that disciplinary action will be determined at a later date, Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker suggested adding language to the policy to note that the Supervisors are taking this seriously.
“Something about discipline potentially including suspension and termination will be decided later,” Van Lancker said.
Van Lancker questioned whether the county could be on the hook for following Iowa OSHA if Iowa OSHA’s requirements are less than the federal OSHA requirements.
Irwin does not believe this would be the case, Irwin said.
“I don’t feel that the federal OSHA’s going to come in and say, ‘OK, we’re going to go to every employer and every county, every municipality that has over 100 employees and start enforcing it and retroactive,’” Irwin said. “I doubt that they’re going to do that. I think they’re just going to say, ‘OK, we’re coming in, hammer down. You better start today.’ So I think that’s why we need to have a policy in place ready to do so when the ruling comes we’re able to say, ‘OK, we’re going to implement this.’”
Aldridge believes the Board of Supervisors has been very accommodating. It is the board’s legal right to require employees to take the vaccine, she said. The board is not going to require employees to take the vaccine, she said.
Van Lancker referenced concerns of vaccinated county employees related to the fairness in county taxpayers paying for tests for those who choose not to be vaccinated. They also do not like unvaccinated employees taking the weekly test on work time for as much as 60 to 90 minutes, Van Lancker said. In this circumstance, the vaccinated employees are picking up the slack for unvaccinated employees that are not at work for as many as 90 minutes, he said.
“I think that’s a legitimate concern there, too, amongst them,” Van Lancker said.
Irwin believes there may be a solution to take up 10 to 15 minutes for the test. There was discussion for doing the test during the lunch hour, Srp added.