Missouri GOP seeks to prohibit employers from protecting their own

Republican lawmakers request special session so they can forbid employers from requesting employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.



August 10, 2021 - 10:07 AM

State Republicans are vowing to protect Missouri’s workers — not from the deadly virus that’s on the rise here but from the vaccines that could contain it. In a stunningly retrograde move, some Republicans in Missouri’s Legislature are demanding a special session so they can block businesses from requiring that their employees be vaccinated before entering the workplace.

The generally pro-Republican business community is pushing back, saying business decisions shouldn’t be micromanaged by the state. That’s supposedly a core GOP principle, but one these lawmakers apparently are willing to abandon if that’s what it takes to pander to the anti-vaccination extremists who make up too much of their party.

Missouri is a national hot spot for coronavirus resurgence, with especially dangerous spikes in the Republican-controlled rural areas of the state. In light of that, a letter last week from six Republican state senators to Gov. Mike Parson sounds like a sick punchline. Instead of addressing the growing crisis, the letter urges Parson to call a special legislative session to “take any and all appropriate steps to protect Missouri workers from vaccine mandates.”

In what upside-down reality do these lawmakers live? Coronavirus infections in Missouri are at their highest levels since January; hospitals are overwhelmed; the state’s death toll has risen to almost 10,000. Yet they think vaccine mandates are what Missouri workers need to be protected against? This wacky inversion of priorities reinforces the already-problematic mythology in conservative enclaves that says the vaccines are dangerous and the coronavirus isn’t.

Parson can shut this down, but his record doesn’t provide much hope of that. The Republican governor has already hindered effective containment of this disease by minimizing the importance of masks last year and signing legislation that bars local governments from requiring proof of vaccination to access public accommodations. Having effectively prevented municipalities from protecting their own citizens from the virus, Parson’s party now seeks to prevent private employers from protecting their own employees. This madness has to end somewhere.

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, rightly slammed the senators for suggesting “reckless new restrictions” on the business community. In a statement, he noted that employers have long had the power to require immunizations of their employees.

This newspaper isn’t entirely in line with the chamber’s hands-off approach to business. For example, we believe Missouri should adopt a New York-style requirement that restaurants and other businesses enforce proof-of-vaccination entry rules for their patrons. This, too, would constitute a mandate on businesses, which Republicans and presumably the business community would oppose on principle.

But allowing businesses the option of such vaccination rules, for both patrons and employees, is common sense in a state controlled by a party that claims to cherish private-sector autonomy. Clearly, that imperative isn’t nearly as important to the Missouri GOP as staying on the right side of their delusional anti-vaccination base.