Florida is suing the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate for federal contractors, asking a federal court judge to declare President Joe Biden’s executive order unlawful and issue an injunction barring the federal government from enforcing it.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced the lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Florida, during a news conference on Oct. 28. The suit names several government agencies as defendants, including NASA, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration (GSA), as well as Biden and other officials.
Guidance issued by the White House’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force on Sept. 24 in response to Biden’s Sept. 9 executive order requires COVID-19 vaccination for federal contractors, subcontractors and their employees by Dec. 8. A clause requiring vaccination must be included in federal contracts from Nov. 14 onward, and contract solicitations are supposed to have included the clause since Oct. 15.
DeSantis says the mandate will have a negative impact on Florida businesses. Several state agencies are also federal contractors, the lawsuit states. Space Florida, a state agency, provides services for NASA, and several public universities in Florida also have research deals with the agency. The Florida Dept. of Education contracts with GSA to provide vending and other food-related services in agency-run buildings.
“Just because you’re a business that has federal contracts, it’s not right for the federal government to come in and rewrite those contracts and shoehorn this in,” DeSantis says. “And then if you don’t comply, you either have to fire people or, if you don’t comply, they’ll just cancel the contract entirely, even though this is something you bid for and won.”
Some construction industry groups have also expressed concerns about the mandate. Unlike Biden’s order for the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a COVID-19 vaccine emergency temporary standard (ETS) for companies with 100 or more employees, the guidance for federal contractors includes no option for weekly negative COVID-19 test results as an alternative for vaccination.
AGC has said the contractor vaccine mandate could worsen an industry workforce shortage, increase federal project costs and cause delays.
“We have communicated our many concerns about the breadth of this requirement and its impact on the ability of contractors to deliver projects on a timely basis,” AGC CEO Steve Sandherr wrote in a letter to the group’s members earlier in October.
Steve Cona, president and CEO of ABC of Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, says its members have struggled with skilled worker shortages and the mandate will "only exacerbate this ongoing problem."
The lawsuit, which does not challenge the still-unissued ETS, alleges that Biden overstepped what is allowed by the Federal Property and Administration Services Act of 1949, with his executive order, calling it “a radical intrusion on the personal autonomy of American workers.”
“We cannot have the federal government coming in, exceeding their power,” DeSantis says. “Some of the stuff they’re doing, they’re re-writing contracts and transforming normal contracting into public health policy.”
Biden has said the mandates are necessary to protect workers from COVID-19. Collectively, he said the mandates would affect about 100 million Americans.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said on Sept. 9, urging Americans to get vaccinated. “And your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing.”
The mandate may still face more lawsuits. Sandherr wrote in his letter to AGC members that the organization was evaluating a possible legal challenge. A group of 21 state attorneys general on Oct. 27 sent a letter to Biden urging him to tell agencies to not implement the mandate, saying they believe the mandate for contracts is “on shaky legal ground.”