USDA vaccine mandate affects county FSA offices

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On September 20, 2021, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack sent a letter to all USDA employees stating that they are all required to receive the Covid19 vaccine in accordance with Executive Order 14043 requiring all federal employees (except postal workers) and all businesses with more than 100 employees. be fully vaccinated. This mandate includes all federal employees of the General Annex (GS), non-federal employees of county offices (CO) of the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and elected and appointed members of county and state committees of the FSA (collectively “non-federal employees). All employees must wait two weeks after the final dose of the vaccine by November 22, 2021. A letter dated September 22, 2021 sent by Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the agricultural services agency, described the vaccination dates and a stated that all employees will be required to provide proof of vaccination.

A number of past and present FSA employees spoke to us anonymously about the mandate.

“From what I see, the local offices don’t like the idea of ​​the mandate. Even the vaccinated do not agree to force the unvaccinated. In our office everyone is okay with not getting it and we will hold on as long as we can but we are looking for other (job) opportunities. Maybe a lawsuit or an injunction from a judge could help, we are waiting for more advice but the deadline is in a week, “said the first source.



One of the concerns of producers and employees is the lack of service which could cause difficulties if the offices were forced to close or operate with much less staff than before. “It will be interesting to know how the system works if it does. Even if one in three stays, there is far too much workload and they will have no way to handle it, ”the first source said. “They take away free will and choice. If you want to get the vaccine, please do your own research and make an informed decision with as much information as possible.

The individuals all believe that this mandate is an infringement of personal liberty and violates constitutional law. They also feel the government sees how far it can push it and that producers may be the next group to comply. They all agree that this will have a very negative impact on the local offices and ultimately the producers.



“I feel like I’m going to be fired from my job which is difficult to fill. I am running for my third term and no one has come forward against me and I wanted the job to go to someone else. As far as the treatment goes, out of respect for the other FSA employees, I won’t get it. The government puts its employees in a difficult position and if another laid-off person helps, I’m happy to be that person. I’m not sure about two COC members, I know one was vaccinated and I guess the other two were as well, ”said Jeremy Maher, committee member from North Dakota.

Another source said their decision to quit was due in part to employee overwork and the vaccination mandate. “I loved helping farmers and ranchers. (This warrant) is a horrible thing, a few years ago it was my body, my rights and what happened to HIPPA and the privacy of my medical information. (If the employees resign during the tenure), the offices are going to really have a hard time processing the payments and the producers will be very frustrated and the employees will be overworked. The tension is building and it won’t be a good scene. There is not enough body to help. This will have a severe impact on the USDA. It’s very frustrating, the people in DC making the rules don’t understand, it will hurt the producers, ”the second source said.

“I don’t think they will have many community committee members left, they only work a few hours a month and there haven’t been any face-to-face meetings, so why would they take care of them? This will leave the offices in a bad position, they need the community members, and they barely have enough people now, so they will have vacant committees, ”said source two.

We reached out to the federal public relations office of the NRCS, but they did not respond and South Dakota State Acting Director of Conservation Jackie Byam also declined to comment.

An FSA employee with over 30 years of experience and only a year before retirement is ready to quit if her religious exemption is denied. “If I don’t get it, I’m gone, 34 years old and a lot of knowledge will accompany me and I know all the producers. This (mandate) will be detrimental to the local FSA offices. Even for them to try to hire replacements, when we hired part time employees, it took 3 months for the background check, training and their cards. And even now, overworked employees are expected to train new hires. I am not anti-vaccine, I just don’t want to be forced and I will stand by my beliefs.

This person is on some USDA employee social media groups and said most of them will not comply and run the risk of being fired. Affected producers may want to contact their state officials, state attorneys general, governors and elected officials in Washington DC to fight against these mandates.

Derogations?

Along with the vaccination mandate, employers are required, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to make reasonable accommodations for employees who oppose job demands on the basis of “sincere” religious beliefs. In addition to religious exemptions, there are also medical exemptions that employees can file. But many employees, from the military to professional athletes, are denied their exemptions.

The Labor Department said an accommodation can be refused if it places an excessive burden on the employer. In some cases where an exemption was approved, the accommodation consisted of placing the employee on leave without pay. Many employees are suing their employers and urging state lawmakers to stand up to what they see as infringements of individual freedoms. Already, some federal judges have issued suspensions in cases where employees have been placed on unpaid leave while their exemptions are being processed.

Executive decree of the president

“I have determined that in order to promote the health and safety of the federal workforce and the efficiency of the public service, it is necessary to require COVID-19 vaccination for all federal employees, subject to the exceptions required by law … Each agency must implement, to the extent compatible with applicable law, a program requiring vaccination against COVID-19 for all its federal employees, with exceptions only when required by law , indicates the decree signed by the president on September 9, 2021.

The IB declares that the term “agency” refers to executive agencies. Reuters factcheckers say that because the legislative and judicial branches of government are separate from the executive branch, senators, members of the House, their staff, as well as anyone working under the judicial branch of government, are not subject to the mandate.


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