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Carlton County prepares for OSHA COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said the county could face severe fines if it does not follow the OSHA vaccination mandate for employers with over 100 employees.

FILE: Carlton County Transportation
The Carlton County Transportation Building. Izabel Johnson / 2021 file / Pine Journal
Izabel Johnson / 2021 file / Pine Journal
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The federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard is now in effect, pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and Carlton County officials are being proactive to protect the county from possible fines.

Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau explained to the board of commissioners during their meeting Tuesday, Jan. 4, if the county did not have a policy in place they could be held liable and fined. Genereau asked for the board to give the policy committee the green light to start developing a draft policy.

The board of commissioners approved the request, as well as a $3,500 cap to pay for a third party service to collect COVID-19 testing data for the county, should the standard become law.

OSHA’s emergency temporary standard is set for employers with over 100 employees and requires employees to either be vaccinated for COVID-19 or wear a mask at work and be tested for the virus once a week.

While the OSHA policy is currently in place, Genereau said fines would not be issued before Monday, Jan. 10, as long as the county was working on a “good faith effort” to implement a plan.

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Protecting the county from possible fines is the main reason Genereau brought the issue forward at the meeting. If officials were to do nothing, the county could be fined $14,000 per employee for non-compliance, which would add up, as the county employs over 350 people.

“If we have one employee that doesn’t test or doesn’t do what they are supposed to do on this and OSHA were to find that, they could fine us $14,000 for that employee,” he said.

Part of the proposed policy would be to collect data on which employees have been vaccinated and which have not. Genereau estimated that 50 county employees have not been vaccinated.

Should the policy go into place, after the effective date, the county would only hire people who have been vaccinated for COVID-19. This would prevent the county from adding more people to the payroll who would need to be tested weekly.

The commissioners had many questions about the policy and how the county should move forward if the OSHA standard remains in place.

Commissioners wanted to know if the county would be supplying tests or if the county health department could administer them in order to remove the third party.

A third party would be used to prevent an employee from fabricating a test, Genereau said. The county would also not be paying for any of the tests and more work will be done to figure out the logistics of getting unvaccinated employees tested.

The draft presented during the meeting would have the county provide paid time off to employees to get tested during normal working hours.

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Dave Lee, director of public health for the county, told commissioners the health department is already stretched thin and could not add this onto what they are already doing.

“We have absorbed seven (full-time employees) all year long, we can’t keep doing that,” he said. “We have to have more staff.”

District 3 Commissioner Thomas Proulx asked Genereau if this was enough to get people vaccinated and if the county should think about mandating a vaccine.

The masking and testing requirement for those who are not vaccinated is intended to make unvaccinated employees think about getting vaccinated, Genereau said.

“The intent behind the testing is not to make it easier on employees but onerous enough to make them sick of testing and they go and get the vaccine,” he said.

Genereau referenced a survey done by the Minnesota Association of County Administrators where 66 out of the 87 counties in Minnesota responded, and the majority of responses were in line with what Carlton County intends to do.

The county already requires masking for those inside county buildings while the county is in a high transmission level of COVID-19.

More information will become available once the OSHA standard is either held or knocked down by the Supreme Court, which has oral arguments scheduled for Friday, Jan. 7.

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In other business, as it was the board's organizational meeting, some of the board's leadership was shuffled.

The board appointed a new chair, District 5 Commissioner Gary Peterson, who previously served as vice-chair. District 4 Commissioner Mark Thell was appointed as the board's new vice-chair.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSCARLTON COUNTYCARLTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERSCORONAVIRUSCOVID-19 VACCINE
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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