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Iowa ABI opposes bill allowing unemployment payments after refusing vaccine


The state’s largest employer association is voicing its opposition to the Iowa Legislature’s passage of a bill that would allow Iowans who are discharged from employment for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine to collect unemployment benefits from the state’s employer-funded unemployment trust fund.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, which represents 1,500 member companies with about 330,000 workers statewide, says the proposed legislation puts employers at risk of facing federal penalties of up to $14,000 per violation if they fail to comply with the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees. The organization said it is the only business association that actively opposed the legislation.

“This legislation is counterproductive to an immediate need of Iowa’s business climate: a robust workforce,” Iowa ABI President Mike Ralston said in a statement. “ABI continues to strongly urge all Iowans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and rejects this rushed decision by Iowa lawmakers to institute a blanket policy that is counter to an individual employer’s right to decide what works best for their workplace.”

ABI’s decision to oppose the legislation was actually adopted by the ABI board of directors in September, said Ralston in an interview today with the Business Record. The 62-member board voted unanimously at the time to oppose the legislation should it be brought to the General Assembly, Ralston said.

ABI officials reiterated that the organization does not support mandates at both the state and federal level and continues to assert that the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is misguided.

House File 902, which is headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her signature, was approved by both the Iowa House and Senate on Thursday. In addition to allowing employees who lose their jobs for refusing to comply with their employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, it would allow employees in private Iowa businesses to claim they are medically vulnerable or have a religious objection to a mandated vaccine based solely on their statements, rather than with the backing by a bona fide professional, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.

The measure passed the Iowa House by a 68-27 margin, and later cleared the Iowa Senate on a 45-4 vote.

Reynolds issued a statement expressing Thursday voicing her strong approval for the legislation.

“Not only do I plan to sign this legislation, but I am committed to doing even more,” she said in the statement. “When the Biden Administration issues the OSHA vaccine mandate in the coming days, we will take immediate legal action.”   

The Republican governor said the legislation is important for protecting individual Iowans’ rights.

“This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedoms and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families,” Reynolds said. “This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs.”   

Ralston said he was surprised that no other business organizations opposed the legislation.

“We have members who have [vaccine] mandates, and we have members who do not have mandates,” he said. “Our advice to the Iowa Legislature was to just stay out of it, to allow Iowa employers to do what’s best for their employees and to let them deal with it.”

Does ABI plan to legally challenge the state legislation?

“It’s too early for us to know,” Ralston said. “We have a board meeting coming up. … Our first advice [to our members] in situations like this is comply with the law. But we will be talking about future actions. If anything, it’s something that we’ll try to revisit with the General Assembly in January. We’ll see.”

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