Employee vaccine mandate deadline approaches for some local businesses; lawmaker files bill in response


ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – Vaccine mandate deadlines for employees are coming fast for some Northwest Arkansas businesses.

The deadline for Mercy Hospital in Rogers and Fort Smith is September 30.

KNWA/FOX24 spoke with an employee at Mercy in Rogers, Chelcey Bitner, who is choosing to not get the vaccine. She said she said starting September 30, she is facing 30 days of unpaid leave. After that, she said it will be time to look for a new job.

“It’s a lot of mixed feelings right now,” said Chelcey Bitner. “I’m scared and it’s gut wrenching.”

Bitner said she feels it is too soon and there is not enough evidence to trust the COVID-19 vaccines yet.

“I have a ten year old that I have to think about and I have to make sure that he has a mom, and that’s my most important part of this.”

When Mercy made the announcement back in July, a spokesperson said in part, “Our goal is to ensure the safest possible work environment for our co-workers and patients while also being a part of the effort to stop the spread of the virus in the communities we serve.”

But, as the vaccine mandate controversy continues nationwide, State Senator Trent Garner (R-District 27) is proposing new legislation in response.

“Some employers have decided to throw down on this,” he said. “If they’re gonna do that, if they’re going to make a business decision, then you have to live with the consequences of that, and you have to provide that unemployment insurance for those people.”

Garner filed Senate Bill 730 September 27, which would provide unemployment benefits for employees who lost their jobs from denying the COVID-19 vaccine.

“These are good, honest people who work hard, who pay them the unemployment,” Garner said. “They want tp make sure they can access that safety net whenever their company- or whether its the Biden mandate that may come down-forces them out of the job they love.”

Garner’s bill was read in Little Rock Wednesday, September 29 and referred to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. He said he is hoping to run this bill again Thursday with an amendment if there is a meeting.

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