Wheatland vaccine protest

Employees of the Basin Electric Laramie River Station gather Friday to protest the proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate. Basin Electric is subject to the mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden, and the workers were protesting the idea that they might lose their job if they declined vaccination. Mark DeLap/Platte County Record Times

Platte County Record Times

WHEATLAND – Protesters gathered at Basin Electric’s Laramie River Station last Friday in opposition to COVID vaccine mandates. Approximately 85 vaccine mandate opponents, including some workers at the power plant, called out to cars driving by and held up signs voicing their displeasure.

Workers at the power plant recently found out through an email that they would have to get coronavirus vaccinations due to a federal order mandating vaccines for U.S. employers with more than 100 employees.

The federal order was issued by the Biden administration last week. There was also an email from Basin Electric CEO Todd Telesz stating the power cooperative was willing to work with employees.

A federal appeals court over the weekend issued a stay halting the federal mandate, but the White House said businesses affected by the mandate should continue preparing to put it in place.

The workers who were gathered last Friday all said that they loved their jobs but were afraid they would lose them if they talked openly to the media. Many came forth anonymously with their signs and comments.

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, was on hand to support the protest and to carry a sign supporting workers who were given a choice of taking the mandated vaccine or potentially losing their jobs.

“The first time I heard about it (the protest) two weeks ago after the Dry Forks (Gillette) protest,” Haroldson said. “I was asked to be here and I said, ‘Absolutely, I love supporting my community.’ All of this is Basin Electric owned, so Dry Forks and LRS are protesting the vaccine mandate because they knew it was coming down.”

The question in any protest is always be, will it make any difference?

“I think everything counts,” Haroldson said. “I think at this point and time, we are creating a culture by doing stuff like this while we are saying we are not anti-vaxx, we’re anti-mandate. This isn’t about vaccination; this is about freedom. This is about freedom lost, and if we let them do this, the next thing they are going to do is tell you what you can and cannot do with your kids or tell you what side of the street you get to walk on.”

A person who again requested to stay anonymous said, “Our company has recently informed us that when they sign their next federal contract, they will be mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all employees. They have stated that it will be mandatory at that time.

“I feel that this (protest) is a necessary and important step to demonstrate that this is an intended breach of our freedoms as Americans,” the employee said. “Additionally, that companies should never have the power to terminate workers due to vaccine noncompliance. We believe it should be the choice of each individual whether or not to receive a vaccine. We want the company to know we do not agree and that we do not stand for this intended overreach of their authority. We want them to see that we will stand up for our rights, and fight a good fight to try to protect them. We feel that it is imperative that we come together and stand up for what is right, but, most importantly, to preserve our freedom of choice. This is strictly about preserving the freedom to choose, and to show our company that we believe they have no place in these choices. No one’s job should ever be on the line for making a personal medical decision.”

According to Haroldson, the problem is that the federal government has preempted it with a financial lynchpin called funding, and that’s how they are keeping people in line and other states from creating laws declaring no mandates.

At some other workplaces, protests and workers walking off jobs that are very specialized have impacted some employers’ COVID vaccination mandates. Workers at Basin Electric are not sure if they can do the same thing here.

“I would like to think we can make a difference,” one unidentified worker said. “But when it comes down to it, especially in a small town, with this being the only real source of income for a lot of people here, it’s hard to get people to come to that, and whether they will actually leave their job. I’d like to hope people would do that, but I don’t know if we have the numbers. I don’t care if people choose to get vaccinated, it’s just that it should be a choice.”

In a response to the protest and the mandates, Joan Dietz, communications manager for Basin Electric Power Cooperative said, “Basin Electric does not currently have a vaccine mandate, and we are watching the situation very closely. We are certainly concerned about how a mandate may impact our workforce, and have been working closely with our legal counsel, union leadership and others to better understand how we would need to comply with the mandate. We have looked closely at the OSHA ruling for employers of over 100 employees, which we certainly fall under, as well as the Federal Contractor rule. We have some of the best employees in the industry, and are very aware of their concerns. We have offered vaccination clinics to our employees since the vaccine became available and will continue to do so. We will also continue to communicate with them as more information becomes available.”

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