Auburn’s football team is a 2-point favorite over Ole Miss this Saturday but the bigger question in Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend will be how much longer Tigers coach Bryan Harsin will be the head coach. Oh, he’s had a heckuva season all right, ranked 18th in the nation and 5-2 up until now, but when Auburn put a December 6 vaccine mandate on all of its employees, the high-priced coach may not comply … or at least he isn’t saying whether he has taken the jab or not.
You’ll remember that President Joe Biden threw the nation into turmoil last month when he signed an order demanding federal contractors and their employees take the vaccine or lose federal funding.
Auburn has about $200 million reasons to comply with Biden’s demand.
But then there is this: on Monday of this week Alabama Governor Kay Ivey “issued an order directing state agencies (which would include the state-supported universities) not to enforce a federal vaccine mandate scheduled to go into effect Dec. 8 and cooperate with efforts to overturn the requirement.”
At SEC Media Days in late summer, Coach Harsin, in his first year of a six-year $31.5 million contract, would not discuss the vaccine, saying it was a private matter. On August 19, he actually missed 10 days of preseason practice after testing positive for COVID. This week he continued to call the vaccine “personal.”
Auburn hosts a press luncheon for the sports media every Monday and among the first questions at this week’s session was the university’s mandate. “I’m aware of the new policy,” Harsin told reporters. “I appreciate you have to ask the question and understand it, but it doesn’t change - I mean, the executive order, all those things, it doesn’t change the fact I’m not going to discuss any individual’s decision or status on the vaccine or anyone else’s, including my own, like I said before.”
Harsin, who would lose millions if fired for ‘just cause,’ added, “From the beginning, I think I’ve made it clear that that wasn’t something that I was going to talk about or discuss,” the coach repeated. “I wasn’t going to go down that road and don’t feel like right now that’s any different. We’re focused on Ole Miss. We’re focused on the things we have to do to get prepared for this week. There’s a lot of other things right now that we have to make sure we’re ready for on this football team. That’s what I’ve got to stay focused on with our players and our staff and the people in this program. So, we’ve had those conversations, but that doesn’t change what I said before.”
Interestingly, Auburn officials say they will consider an employee as “tested” if the person completes the drug regimen at least two weeks prior to the Dec. 8 deadline. This means either two doses of Moderna or Pfizer – or one dose of Johnson and Johnson vaccine must be taken no later than Nov. 24 – three days before Auburn will host Alabama in the South’s premier rivalry. And remember there is a one-month wait between Moderna doses which would come into play. (Pfizer has a three-week window and – remember -- Nov. 1 is this Monday.)
Already the mandate has cost jobs across America. Washington State fired head football coach Nick Rolovich and four assistant coaches last week after they refused to get vaccinated following an order by Washington Governor Jay Inslee that requiring all state employees and healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee has already fired noncompliant workers and there is purportedly a mandate at Chattanooga’s CHI Memorial Hospital with a Nov. 1 deadline.
The fact Harsin seems untroubled may be an indicator he has taken the vaccine. And he’s right when he says he’s got other things to worry about. No. 10 Ole Miss (6-1 with sensational QB Matt Corral) is the immediate threat this Saturday at 7 p.m. and next week the Tigers will visit No. 14 Texas A&M in the SEC’s wild and wooly Western Division. Auburn faces Miss. State and visits South Carolina in mid-November before hosting the ever-fabulous Iron Bowl Nov. 27 to end the regular season.
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MARSHA BLACKBURN ROLLS OUT EXEMPTION BILL
From Fox News: Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn rolled out a measure Tuesday that would protect essential workers from being fired due to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates, making them exempt from President Biden's executive order, amid layoffs and resignations from workers across different industries due to their unwillingness to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The legislation, titled "Keeping Our COVID-19 Heroes Employed Act," is co-sponsored by Republican Senators Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Bill Haggerty of Tennessee, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Mike Braun of Indiana, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. (Tuberville is a former Auburn football coach.)
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DECATUR ROCKET ENGINEERS WALK OFF OVER MANDATES
A group of workers at a Decatur, Ala. rocket plant are protesting the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, saying their religious and medical exemption requests are being denied. WAFF is reporting that some employees of United Launch Alliance are protesting the mandate, which calls for businesses that employ more than 100 workers to require vaccination or have employees submit to regular testing. Hunter Creger, who has worked as a federal contractor with ULA for the last two years, told the station that his religious exemption as a Catholic was denied.
“I’m sick and tired of being walked on,” Creger said. “I’m an American, my family has fought for this country. It feels like a birth right has been taken from me. I’ve put in a lot of really hard work at this company, and I really enjoy what I do. This is my dream job, and I’m being fired over something that has nothing to do with my merit.”
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MANDATES WILL AFFECT TWO-THIRD OF PRIVATE SECTOR WORKFORCE
FROM CNBC -- Worried that President Joe Biden’s Covid vaccine mandate for private companies could cause a mass exodus of employees, business groups are pleading with the White House to delay the rule until after the holiday season. White House officials at the Office of Management and Budget held dozens of meetings with labor unions, industry lobbyists and private individuals last week as the administration conducts its final review of the mandate, which will require businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure they are vaccinated against Covid or tested weekly for the virus. It is estimated to cover roughly two-thirds of the private sector workforce. OMB officials have several meetings lined up Monday and Tuesday with groups representing dentists, trucking companies, staffing companies and realtors, among others.