A vaccination mandate is on its way down from the highest offices in the nation, and its effects would be felt in communities large and small. As CEO of Felling Trailers in Sauk Centre, Brenda Jennissen is faced with a difficult situation in what she sees as an overreach of federal power and a blow against businesses which have already suffered from the pandemic.

“We believe in personal choice and freedom, and this goes against that,” Jennissen said. “It is the duty of our appropriate government agencies and healthcare providers to gather and share complete and accurate data, know that things evolve and change, admit when previous actions or decisions were wrong and identify new findings, then leave it up to each individual to make their decision based on that education and information they were given. Each person is different; their situations are different, and therefore they should have the personal choice on whether or not to be vaccinated.”

As the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads, President Joe Biden announced a new vaccine and testing mandate Sept. 9, requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure all their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or getting tested every week to prove they’re negative for the coronavirus. The rule could affect as many as 100 million U.S. workers, and additional new rules will also require healthcare facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement to have their staff vaccinated. Federal executive branch employees and contractors will have to be vaccinated and will not have an alternative testing option.

The mandate is being worked on and will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, however, the mandate is already facing pushback from businesses, organizations and politicians, particularly many Republican governors.

Jennissen received an email about the mandate through a journalistic site around 1 p.m. Sept. 9, several hours before Biden made his announcement. She felt shocked about the mandate but remained calm.

“I’m not one to scream and holler because it doesn’t do anything other than raise blood pressure, and I don’t need that,” Jennissen said. “I knew (Biden) was going to come out with some mandates. His press secretary had said something the day before about additional mitigation and that it wouldn’t affect you if you were vaccinated, so I was kind of curious what this was going to be. Then, of course, some leaks came out.”

Felling Trailers has had a COVID-19 mitigation strategy in place since the early months of the pandemic in 2020. They currently have a total of about 250 people employed in their locations in Sauk Centre and Litchfield, and they have not experienced any major outbreaks in their workplaces, a record helped by how much open space and how little social mingling is needed for trailer manufacturing.

Jennissen worries the vaccination mandate could drive down Felling Trailers’ staffing.

“If this mandate went into effect, some of our team would go to other employers who don’t have 100 people,” Jennissen said. “It could affect business greatly from a workforce standpoint.”

Felling Trailers has been forthright with letting their staff know where they can access COVID-19 vaccines.

“We give our staff all of the local clinic information,” Jennissen said. “Our clinics are fantastic – our local clinic in Litchfield, here in Sauk Centre and in Melrose, et cetera – giving us contact information and when they have specific COVID open vaccine clinics, so we’ve provided that information to our team members, especially so those who are most at risk can obtain vaccination.”

Felling Trailers does not have a plan forward from here yet, but they are networking with other industry associations to see what their options are. Jennissen has heard she is far from the only area business leader who is concerned about the vaccination mandate.

“It is such an authoritarian direction with extra costs,” Jennissen said. “It is hard to attract workforce in this tight labor market, and focusing on private businesses with 100 or more employees is discriminatory and inequitable.”