By Terri Jo Neff |
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) could vote as early as next month on a proposal that would ensure the reliability of electric, gas, and water service across the state by protecting thousands of utility employees from termination for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Commissioner Justin Olson and Commissioner Jim O’Connor are advocating for the ACC to adopt a policy and associated rules to prohibit the agency’s regulated utilities -also known as public service corporations (PSCs)- from compelling employees to be vaccinated to keep their jobs. Each violation of the policy could come with a hefty fine under the proposal.
“The Biden administration has unconstitutionally sought forced vaccinations and has intimidated companies into complying with this inappropriate policy,” Olson said of the proposal presented to the other three commissioners last week. “Workers should not have to choose between losing their jobs or being forced to receive a vaccine against their will.”
But Olson told AZ Free News on Tuesday he has another concern with the mandates, one that involves potential negative impacts to Arizona’s regulated utilities due to losing valuable employees through COVID-19 related resignations or terminations.
“Our utilities rely on a highly experienced and trained workforce.” Olson said. “We cannot allow Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandate to drive away critical employees whose skills are necessary to maintain safe and reliable power and water.”
The letter Olson and O’Connor sent to their fellow commissioners points out that the agency has the authority in the Arizona Constitution to “make and enforce rules, regulations, and orders” related to the safety and health of employees of PSCs.
“This is especially true when the federal government is intimidating companies to develop, implement and enforce such mandatory vaccine policies,” the letter states.
There are currently two federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates which could impact Arizona’s utilities. One is an executive order issued by President Joe Biden requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies.
According to Olson and O’Connor, the broad language of the executive order implicates the very PSCs which the ACC regulates “that have legally enforceable agreements with the federal government, including military bases in Arizona.”
The other mandate was issued by OSHA. It requires all private employers with 100 or more employees to implement a vaccination policy that can require stringent, invasive testing. The OSHA mandate is currently on hold while under review by federal courts across the country.
One of those courts, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, said OSHA’s mandate “raises serious constitutional concerns” and grossly exceeds the agency’s statutory authority.
Olson and O’Connor have asked that their concerns be placed on the agenda for discussion and possible vote at the ACC’s Dec. 15 and 16 open meetings.