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OSHA vaccine mandate to affect hundreds of thousands of Orlando-area workers

ORLANDO, Fla. — Starting in January, companies representing a large portion of Orlando’s workforce will be fined if their employees aren’t vaccinated or tested weekly.

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The new rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration require private and nonprofit companies larger than 100 workers to enforce mandates or testing policies by January 4, the first business day after the new year.

READ: Governor DeSantis announces lawsuit against Biden administration over vaccine mandate

President Biden had teased the requirements in an earlier announcement. The government took weeks to make its deadline official.

OSHA’s release went on to say failure to comply could result in penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.

According to data collected by the Orlando Economic Partnership, approximately 465,000 Orlando metro area employees will be affected by these rules, though many are already vaccinated. They include workers from organizations like Publix, Universal, Lockheed Martin, AdventHealth and Siemens Energy, all which are ranked in the top 10 largest employers in the area.

Some organizations like Disney, American Airlines and Nemours already have mandates in place.

READ: Parents may have to wait another month for COVID-19 vaccines for kids

“I was honestly proud of the company I was working for, for having that mandate, because I feel like to be in a safe work environment right now,” Benny Qualmann, who works at a resort that requires vaccines, said.

Eyewitness News reached out to many of the area’s largest employers. The most common response was that the company was studying the guidelines and implementing policies that comply with them.

Elsewhere in Florida, Gov. DeSantis announced the state would challenge the rules in court.

“At what point does the federal government have the limit to their power, if they can just go ahead and impose this on the entire private economy?” he asked, as he spoke about his own plans to block private companies from enacting mandates.

READ: Orange County leaders not yet ready to declare victory as COVID-19 positivity rates decline

Legal analysts from various firms debated the legality of OSHA’s rules in a series of online press releases. A writer from Fisher Phillips noted the federal government has a mixed history with similar rules, with some allowed to stand and others blocked by courts. The author noted this rule will face hurdles.

“Seems like a little bit intrusive to have them, especially in the like applications even ask me if I’m now vaccinated,” one Orlando man who was against the rules said as he walked down Orange Avenue. “I feel like it’s been a major hurdle for a lot of people that aren’t necessarily comfortable with either choice.”

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