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News brief: Biden vaccine mandate, climate protests, Oath Keepers rosters

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The vaccine mandate that's coming January 4 is not exactly an order to get a shot.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Right. New regulations say millions of workers have to get vaccinated against COVID or get tested weekly. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is going to enforce the rule. It applies to people at companies with 100 employees or more. And medical workers don't have the testing option. They just have to get vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Let's talk this through with David Shepardson, who's a correspondent with Reuters and covers this story. Good morning.

DAVID SHEPARDSON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Let's go through this a little more specifically. We said companies with 100 workers or more. How many people are we talking about, and what are some of the nuances?

SHEPARDSON: That's about 84 million private sector employees who work for those companies, 100 and more. There's 17 million health care workers who don't have that option of testing and masking. And then there are a few categories who are not covered, so people who exclusively work outdoors or telework. That's about 18 million people. And then there are still millions more covered who are federal contractors, people who work at Boeing or IBM or American Airlines, Union Pacific, many other companies. And then potentially, this could be expanded to employees who work at smaller firms. The government's asked for comment over the next 30 days on whether it should be expanded to those employees, as well.

INSKEEP: OK. So small firms are not currently covered, but larger firms of many kinds are - employees of 100 or more, a lot of different kinds of companies. We mentioned the option there, which is going to be important, I guess, for millions of people who've been hesitant or are resistant to the vaccines. If people choose the testing option, who pays? It's not nothing.

SHEPARDSON: No, it's not. And of course, some employers will opt to mandate the - all their employees get vaccinated. But for those employees who have that option, they will likely have to pay for those tests unless a collective bargaining agreement required the employer to pay for it. So that's another incentive for people to get vaccinated. You know, companies like Delta Airlines have already mandated that their employees who are not vaccinated are paying more money for health insurance per month, another way to get people to get vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the practicality of getting this done. NPR's been talking with some company owners. One of them is Jim Ward. He runs a trucking company with 450 drivers, and he says it is going to be hard to get this done. Let's listen.

JIM WARD: The complexity that that's going to create in our industry - I mean, I don't know how we're going to do it.

INSKEEP: And thinking about that just for a moment, I can understand his point of view and that he's got hundreds of employees who may be in many states and moving around all the time.

SHEPARDSON: I think it will be challenging for companies who, you know, are not requiring the vaccines to enforce those testing mandates because they're going to have to - people will be tested at least once a week. But I think the government's arguing that for people who are going to be covered by a vaccine mandate, either you show a card or you make an attestation if you for some reason couldn't find your card. They argue it's relatively straightforward to show proof and then you wouldn't have to do it again.

INSKEEP: How does OSHA go about enforcing these rules?

SHEPARDSON: Well, that will be challenging. This rule covers, you know, a few million establishments around the country. They typically respond to complaints. They did say they will have some planned inspections where they will go to workplaces to ensure compliance.

INSKEEP: Oh, interesting about complaints - so if somebody feels that a vaccine mandate is not being followed in their workplace, they might call up OSHA.

SHEPARDSON: That's right. Or there could - they read media reports. I mean, a lot of what OSHA does is responding to complaints.

INSKEEP: Mr. Shepardson, thanks so much.

SHEPARDSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: David Shepardson is with the Reuters news agency.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. One of the themes for the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, is youth and public empowerment.

KING: Yes. And the youth and the public will demonstrate today outside of the COP26 conference. They're going to demand that the world move much faster to cut carbon emissions.

Mitzi Jonelle Tan is a 24-year-old climate activist from the Philippines. Here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITZI JONELLE TAN: A lot of people ask me, what are my hopes for COP? And honestly, I don't have any hopes. I have expectations, and I have demands because we are tired of hoping. We don't need hope. We need action.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been covering the climate summit. Hey there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What form might these demonstrations assume?

LANGFITT: Yeah. What's going to happen is they're going to start off at a park on both days and march through the city. And organizers, particularly tomorrow, are expecting as many as a 100,000. People will have to see if COVID keeps some people away. Here in the United Kingdom, we've been averaging about 130 deaths a day from COVID.

INSKEEP: You know, I've been able to see the inside of this conference because some parts of it have been on, you know, livestreams and that sort of thing. How does it feel when you're there, and how does it feel when you're just outside?

LANGFITT: It's very, very interesting. There's this divide between what's inside the fence and outside the fence. Inside, you have established leaders who are agreeing with the protesters that things have to go very quickly, but also finding it very challenging given how reliant the economy is on fossil fuels. And what you see outside are people like Mitzi, who are saying you're not going fast enough at all; our generation is going to bear the brunt of it. In her case, she's already felt it. Here's Mitzi Tan again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TAN: I woke up in the middle of the night having to scoop out floodwater from my room. There is always this fear that the next typhoon will wash our house away. And no one should ever have to feel that fear. My mom didn't have that fear when she was growing up. I don't want my kids to have that fear when growing up.

INSKEEP: You know, let's remember she's from the Philippines, which we can describe as a developing nation. Isn't there a lot of tension here between developing and developed nations?

LANGFITT: There really is. And this has been fascinating to see it play out in the conference and also out on the streets. You know, basically, the argument is the industrialized countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, they led the Industrial Revolution. They benefited enormously economically. Glasgow's a great example, Steve. You had Scottish coal mines powering heavy industry, ship building, locomotive construction. This is back in the 19th century. By the late 1870s, Glasgow, one of the richest cities in all of Europe, all that CO2 that was poured into the air and all of it afterwards, particularly from these big, you know, big economies, they benefited, you know, what we call the north.

But when you look at what's happening in places like the Philippines, the Caribbean nations, the Maldives, they never had an Industrial Revolution. They're the ones at such great risk because of stronger storms and also rising water. And people from the developed nations feel this is deeply unfair.

INSKEEP: Does that drive this difference in conversations that you notice between people inside and outside the conference?

LANGFITT: I think you certainly - it feels more urgent. I think for people from the developing world, absolutely. And one thing we've seen is, you know, these leaders inside, they acknowledge the crisis. But they say they cannot solve it by just closing the world's coal mines and oil wells because renewable energy can't fill that gap. On the other side of the fence, these activists are saying this is existential. We need it done now. This is Dominika Lasota. She's 19 and from Poland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOMINIKA LASOTA: I feel this powerlessness and this anger and this sadness that there's still such a detachment of those in power from the reality, from the communities, from the ecosystems.

LANGFITT: And we'll be hearing a lot more of that from the streets of Glasgow the next couple of days.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt covering the U.N. climate conference. Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Documents reveal some of the connections between a far-right group and law enforcement.

KING: The group is called the Oath Keepers, and its closeness to law enforcement is not a secret. Many members claim to be current or former U.S. troops or cops. They vow to enforce the Constitution, which is totally fine except the Oath Keepers vow to enforce their own idea of the U.S. Constitution. Documents from an anonymous hacker group reveal specific current members of law enforcement and the military who are supposedly tied to this group.

INSKEEP: NPR and our member station WNYC have the documents. And joining us now is NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef. Good morning.

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what is in these hacked documents?

YOUSEF: The documents include chat logs, emails and membership roster from the - purportedly taken from the Oath Keepers' web server. And what we looked at was ties between people that were in that membership roster and law enforcement agencies in the nation's three largest cities. You know, people may know of the Oath Keepers because many of them have been charged in relation to what happened at the Capitol early this year. But the group's been around since 2009. They fall within the far-right patriot movement that's come to view the federal government as tyrannical and that's gotten involved in armed standoffs against the federal government.

INSKEEP: OK. You said the nation's three largest cities - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago - right? And you worked on the investigation with NPR's Tom Dreisbach and George Joseph of WNYC and also of Gothamist. You're focusing on these three cities. What did you find?

YOUSEF: Well, interestingly, it was the department that I looked at, Steve - Chicago - that showed the most matches. There were 13 entries on that Oath Keepers membership list that matched details of active sworn officers in the Chicago Police Department. That was more than we found in LA and New York combined. In New York, George found two active NYPD members who appear to be on the list. And in LA, Tom found no current LAPD officers in the list, but he did find three whose information matched employees at the LA County Sheriff's Office. I'll note that we reached out to all of those that we identified, and I ended up speaking with two Chicago uniformed employees who acknowledged they'd been with the Oath Keepers in the past.

INSKEEP: Can you be a little more specific about why this is a problem - because on the surface, they're just saying we want to enforce the Constitution?

YOUSEF: You're right. And you know, officers also enjoy the same free speech and free assembly rights as other Americans do, so this poses a real dilemma. But experts say that departments do need to grapple with this issue because membership to groups like the Oath Keepers can pose a real conflict. You know, the Oath Keepers exhorts its members to uphold the Constitution as they interpret it and not necessarily as the courts have interpreted it. You know, Steve, another thing that's interesting is one officer I spoke with told me that he thinks Black Lives Matter should be labeled a terrorist group.

I spoke with Sue Rahr, who's a former sheriff in Washington state, and she said that kind of thinking could be cause for concern.

SUE RAHR: If you have an inequitable focus or enforcement on a particular community, this develops an abiding distrust and disregard for the law and the police.

YOUSEF: But the fact is, Steve, we have nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in this country, and there's no consistency to how they're approaching affiliation with groups like the Oath Keepers.

INSKEEP: OK. And we have here some documentation of some connection. Odette, thanks so much.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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