Arizona regulators pass ban on COVID vaccine mandates for utility workers
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Workers at state-regulated utilities in Arizona can’t be fired for refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, according to a policy a state commission adopted this month.
The practical effect of the policy is unclear because it conflicts with federal vaccination mandates for corporations that go into effect in January but still face multiple legal challenges, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The Arizona Corporation Commission approved it Dec. 15, prohibiting the state-regulated companies from developing, implementing and enforcing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination polices as a condition of employment.
Among others, it could affect Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service Co., TEP and sister rural utility UniSource Energy Services.
Approved on a party-line vote by the commission’s Republican majority, the policy takes aim at the Biden administration’s mandate that private companies with 100 or more employees must assure their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. The original Jan. 4 federal deadline recently was extended to Jan. 10.
TEP and other state-regulated utilities say they are monitoring the legal status of the mandate closely. But they have no plans of their own to mandate vaccination or testing, beyond the current workplace-safety protocols.
The policy was proposed by Republican commissioners Justin Olson and Jim O’Connor, and supported by Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson.
Olson said the federal mandate is “100% unconstitutional” and the commission has clear authority to regulate the utilities’ workplaces.
Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Anna Tovar voted against it. Kennedy said it was irresponsible for the commission to adopt it without consulting health-care experts while hospitals are being overwhelmed with resurgent COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Erik Bakken, vice president of systems operations for TEP and sister rural utility UniSource Energy Services, told the commission the companies are doing everything they can to maintain flexibility amid the changing legal status of the vaccinate-or-test mandate.
Just over half of the employees surveyed recently at both TEP and UES said they were fully vaccinated, Bakken said. The survey allowed workers to opt out of declaring their status, the company said in a later statement. TEP and UES have a combined workforce of about 2,100.