Four of Salem’s 10 largest employers are local government agencies, rather than private businesses - but they’ll still likely fall under the vaccination mandate President Joe Biden announced last week.

That means most workers for the city of Salem, Marion County, Polk County and Chemeketa Community College would need to get vaccinated against Covid or be regularly tested for the virus.

Details about timing, exemptions and exactly who’s covered remain to be worked out on the state level, said Aaron Corvin, spokesperson for Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Biden announced on Sept. 9 that federal government employees, contractors and workers at companies employing more than 100 people would have to either get vaccinated against Covid or be tested weekly for the virus.

Salem has about 1,800 federal employees, according to the city’s comprehensive annual financial report for 2020.

The rule will be implemented through the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. States like Oregon with their own OSHA agencies then adopt a rule that has to be at least as effective as the federal version, Corvin said.

Though Biden’s announcement focused on the private sector and federal employees, the state workplace safety agency has jurisdiction over both public and private sector workers.

“Whatever would happen here, it’s going to apply to the public and private sector would be our expectation,” Corvin said.

Corvin said the agency is awaiting federal rules which will clarify the timeline for implementation and other details before starting the process to adopt its own rules.

The announcement means changes ahead for Salem-area local government employers, who have so far opted not to require vaccinations.

Courtney Knox Busch, Salem spokesperson, said the city encourages its 1,290 employees to get vaccinated, requires masks indoors and discourages in-person meetings. 

“We will comply with the law, when it is issued,” she said of the vaccine mandate in an email. 

Chad Ball, Marion County spokesperson, said the county hasn’t been notified of any new rules or mandates from the state or OSHA. The county has about 1,560 full-time employees.

“The commissioners will review any new mandate once it is released,” he said in an email. 

Similarly, Craig Pope, Polk County commissioner, said the county, which has 420 employees, hasn’t gotten any direct communication from the federal or state administrations about the vaccine mandate. 

Chemeketa Community College, which has about 600 employees, isn’t tracking employee vaccinations, but would begin doing so if vaccination was mandated, spokesperson Marie Hulett said.

Salem’s three largest employers, who collectively employ more than one-third of the city’s labor force, were already covered under state vaccination mandates Gov. Kate Brown announced in August. Those mandates cover most state employees, health care workers and K-12 educators and school employees, and require employees to be fully vaccinated or secure medical or religions exception by Oct. 18.

The State of Oregon is Salem’s largest employer, with about 20,100 local employees.

Next are Salem Health, which employs about 5,200 people, and the Salem-Keizer School District, with about 4,700 employees.

SAIF, the state-chartered worker’s compensation agency, is Salem’s largest private employer that wasn’t previously covered under a vaccine mandate.

SAIF spokesperson Lauren Casler said the federal vaccine mandate will likely apply to SAIF given that the agency currently employs 1,041 people statewide, the majority of whom are in Salem.

Casler said the company has at least 534 fully vaccinated employees, but doesn’t have records for everyone because a majority of their workers are still at home and haven’t been asked to show proof.

The company does not currently know how many employees are vaccinated because a majority are working at home. The agency has only asked for proof of vaccination from the 12% of employees who are working on site, and those who don’t provide it are tested weekly, Casler said. 

“Like other businesses, we are looking forward to reading the full details of the rule once it’s available,” Casler said in an email. “We don’t know yet how it will impact employees currently working from home full time – we know that’s something many businesses are trying to determine right now.”

Ardeshir Tabrizian contributed reporting.

Correction: This article was updated on Sept. 15 with a more current count of the number of Chemeketa employees and correct the spelling of Marie Hulett's name. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241. Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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