Employees of more than a dozen local organizations may soon be required to present proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing under an executive order issued by President Joe Biden last week.
Once effected, employers with more than 100 employees must enforce COVID-19 vaccinations, or face a fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employees who refuse to get vaccinated must present a weekly negative test.
Thousands of workers in Tallapoosa and Coosa counties fall into that category according to data supplied by the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, with Russell Medical Center, Russell Lands and automotive plants like SL Alabama and Sejin America among the largest employers.
Many are still processing the news of the executive order.
Mark Cordell, senior human resources manager at Madix — which employs about 300 at its Goodwater plant — said the company is reviewing its policy this week and has yet to mandate vaccination.
Steve Forehand, vice president and general counsel at Russell Lands, said the company is still waiting on a clear directive from the federal government. The Lake Martin developer had about 600 full-time employees as of May.
"There's nothing to implement yet because OSHA hasn't issued the regulations," he said, explaining the executive order directs OSHA to draft the rules. "When we see something, we'll know how to respond to it. I imagine it's fairly high-priority for them."
Many of the region's top employers are also public sector, including the City of Alexander City, Tallapoosa County and both the Alex City and Tallapoosa County school systems, creating a potential conflict with Alabama's "vaccine passport" ban.
The regulation signed earlier this year by Gov. Kay Ivey — who criticized Biden's executive order as overreach —prohibits state and local government entities from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment, or in the case of schools, enrollment.
According to OSHA, the emergency rule will apply to both private- and public-sector employers; however, Alabama does not have a state OSHA plan that applies to its state agencies.
Ray Porter, Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent, said the school system currently abides by the vaccine passport ban but "I'll do what I'm told," he said. Alex City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford said he was expecting clarification from the state superintendent soon affirming Alabama public schools' exemption from the executive order.
Both school districts have encouraged their employees to get vaccinated, setting up paid time to do so on scheduled clinic days at Lake Martin Community Hospital and Russell Medical.
Unlike the school district, Russell Lands, a private company, does not fall under the purview of the vaccine passport ban but has yet to enforce vaccinations.
"We have not put out any official memos or policies on it, but certainly the corporate leadership has been vaccinated and encourages other folks to do (so)," Forehand said.
Whatever OSHA comes out with, however, "We are committed to following the law," he said.