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Chamber Advocates Against Bill That Limits Businesses’ Ability to Create COVID-19 Safety Measures

Detroit Regional Chamber vice president of Government Relations Brad Williams testified before the Michigan House Committee on Workforce, Trades, and Talent Thursday against House Bill 4471, which would restrict businesses from making their own decisions requiring vaccines and masks. The Chamber advocates against creating big government restrictions that can impede an employer’s ability to safely and responsibly operate.

The Detroit Regional Chamber joined leading business organizations from around Michigan in opposing this legislation.

Read Williams’ testimony and watch the full hearing:

Thank you Madam Chair and members of the committee. My name is Brad Williams, I am the Vice President of Government Relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on this most important matter. The Chamber and its member companies understand the emotion behind this issue but are firmly opposed to this direction. In the view of the Detroit Regional Chamber, the third largest chamber representing private industry in the nation, this represents the type of big government overreach many of the proponents of this legislation have long railed against and attempts to implement a one-size-fits-all solution to the thousands of businesses across the state.

There are good employers requiring vaccines and masks, there are other good employers who leave the choice to individuals. The best employers value the safety of their employees above everything else and will make decisions that balance the need to keep their employees safe and the need to attract top-notch talent to their offices and shop floors.  When it comes to health and safety, employers look to regulators like MIOSHA to set a basic standard of safety and allow employers to make the choice to go beyond those standards as needs arise. Long-standing conservative governance principles have been for the Federal Government to set basic standards, have state, then local governments augment those Federal standards to suit local needs – and then allow individual businesses to go further as their situation and competitive circumstances deem prudent.

Every business I have walked into this summer has a help wanted sign. Signing bonuses and wage increases are becoming commonplace to try and grow our talent pool. I am confident the majority of businesses in your district(s) are talking about their labor shortage and not vaccine mandates. But the labor shortage and vaccines are intertwined.  In June, the Chamber released a statewide public policy poll that among other things looked at Michigan voters’ priorities for the coming months when it looked like we were at the end of the pandemic.

We discovered that even when enhanced unemployment benefits end next month, our labor shortage is likely to continue. We had a labor shortage before the pandemic struck, and according to the Chamber’s statewide polling released in June, 4.2% of Michigan workers have left the labor force during the pandemic and do not have plans to return. These workers are largely older and female.  While there are multiple reasons for their decision to leave the workforce, health and safety are among the prime reasons. In other words, Michigan has a chunk of workers sitting idle because they do not feel the work environment is safe enough for them.

The free market works – for both businesses and their employees. Businesses that implement requirements that some employees object to, those employees will go to new employers with policies that best suit their values. Likewise, if employees think their employer is not properly caring for their health and safety, they will find new employment with an employer they are more comfortable with.

Given the competitiveness of today’s labor market – with employers anxious to hire at all levels – very few people will be unemployed long.

Let me reiterate, that the Chamber is not arguing for or against vaccine and mask mandates, but we are arguing for vaccines because it is the only way out of the pandemic and endless battle against variants, and we are pro-free-market for both employers and employees. This proposed legislation solves a problem that does not exist and replaces the independent judgment of business owners to respond to their employees, customers, and other unique circumstances with a top-down, one-size-fits-all decree from Lansing. Employers do not relish being a part of their employee’s private lives any more than is necessary, but their primary responsibility is to the safety of their customers and team members. If one of those team members is not keeping their team members safe, sometimes the employer needs to step in for the good of the entire team and as private entities, that is their choice, not the Legislature’s.

We encourage you to explore ways to help bring our members employees safely back to the workplace with carrots as opposed to this proposed stick. Earlier this summer, the Chamber proposed incentives for small employers that can’t afford the leave time or pop-up clinic to get 1 million Michiganders vaccinated using federal funds. If policymakers have other creative ideas that will get your vaccine-hesitant constituents to move our vaccine rate towards herd immunity by choice, I’ll speak for Chamber businesses and say we are ready to help. But Chamber members are looking for partners in navigating out of the pandemic and its variants, restoring our social and economic lives to something that looks like “normal” and creating an environment where all Michiganders feel comfortable doing the things they did before COVID-19 came to our shores.