After Months of Avoiding Vaccine Issues, Companies Launch Mandate

Some of the country’s biggest employers have been reluctant for months to delve into the looming issue of whether covid-19 vaccination Must be mandatory for workers, have been forced to work in recent days as infections have risen again.

on Tuesday, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 employees in offices, slaughterhouses and poultry plants across the country that they would need vaccinations by November 1 as a “condition of employment”. And Microsoft, which employs about 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices.

Last week, Google said it would require employees who returned to company offices to be vaccinated, while Disney announced a mandate for all salaried and non-hourly workers working at the site.

Other companies, including Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, and Lyft and Uber, has taken a less forceful approach, mandating vaccines for white-collar workers but not millions of frontline workers. Those moves essentially set up a divide between employees working in offices and those dealing directly with the public, and collectively, have been more reluctant to get the shots.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” Tyson’s chief executive, Donnie King, wrote in a memo to employees announcing the company’s full mandate. “We’ve spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, less than half of our team members are.”

The move drew praise from the White House.

“I want to thank Walmart, Google, Netflix, Disney, Tyson Foods for their recent actions that required vaccinations for employees,” President Biden said in a press briefing on Tuesday. “Look, I know it ain’t easy – but I’ll give them a pat.”

“Others have refused to step up,” he said. “I find it disappointing.”

In fact, most other large employers have so far avoided the mandate altogether. Amazon, the second largest private employer in the country, hasn’t announced any plans to require vaccinations, nor have Apple or many of the biggest banks.

Amazon’s chief financial officer, Brian Olsavsky, said in a call with reporters last week, “We’re working strongly to get our employees vaccinated,” and we hope everyone else gets vaccinated and it goes away. Will be done.

However, the coronavirus shows no signs of going away. With vaccination rates stabilizing in many parts of the country and delta variants increasing, a new wave of infections is forcing businesses to act.

“The rise of the delta version is on people’s minds,” said Douglas Brealey, an employment attorney at Ropes & Grey. “I think they’re looking around and seeing that a large number of employers are starting to mandate, and so they’re wondering if they should reconsider as well.”

But vaccine hesitation remains a deeply and emotionally charged problem inside many American workplaces.

Many companies, already facing staffing shortages, are concerned that the need for vaccines could give employees another reason to quit. At the same time, companies are battling for new ways to encourage workers to get vaccinated, as efforts like offering cash bonuses haven’t increased vaccination rates fast enough.

The remaining hesitation for vaccines appears to be rooted in a complex mix of politics, cultural beliefs, and misinformation that no one can overcome with a cash payment or a gift certificate from an employer.

“Many workers are refusing the vaccine because of political and ideological reasons,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the retail, wholesale and department store union that represents workers in food factories in the Midwest. . “In places where we have the largest numbers of Trump supporters, where we are seeing a large number of vaccine resistances.”

But many unions are wary of the mandate for a different set of reasons who are not primarily political. They say many of their members are concerned about potential health side effects or the idea of ​​an employer’s intervention in what they regard as a personal health decision.

Mark Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing 1.3 million workers at grocery chains such as Kroger and large meatpacking plants, said he would not support the employer’s mandate until the Food and Drug Administration approved. The vaccine was not given full approval. which is operated in case of emergency.

“You can’t just say, ‘Accept the mandate or knock on the door,'” Mr Perrone said in an interview on Monday.

After Tyson announced his vaccine mandate on Tuesday, Mr Perrone issued a statement that the union “will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss this vaccine mandate and ensure that the rights of these workers are protected.” and this policy should be implemented fairly.”

Asked whether he supported the vaccine mandate, Mr. Appelbaum said, “I’m not ready to answer that right now.” But he said companies need to closely negotiate the terms of any such requirement with workers and they also need to extend benefits such as paid sick time to workers during the pandemic.

Mr Peron and Mr Appelbaum’s unions together represent more than 30,000 workers at the Tyson plant, which complicates the meat company’s plans for a mandate.

Tyson and others in the meatpacking industry were criticized for not doing enough to protect workers during the early stages of the pandemic Many meat plants became virus hot spots. Now, it requires vaccinations for its leadership team by September 24 and the rest of its office workers by October 1. Frontline employees have until November 1 to be fully vaccinated, the extra time the company is providing because there are “significantly more frontline team members than office workers who still need vaccinations,” Tyson said a spokesperson.

During the pandemic, companies have been careful in taking public health measures while trying to protect their businesses from harm.

Last year, when major retailers began requiring customers to wear masks, they quietly told their employees not to enforce the rule if a customer was adamant not to wear it.

Companies like Walmart have tried a similar tentative approach with vaccine requirements.

Walmart announced last week that it needs to vaccinate about 17,000 employees at its Arkansas headquarters, but not in stores and distribution centers, which make up the bulk of its 1.6 million US workforce.

In a statement, the retailer said the limited mandate would send a message to all workers that they should get vaccinated.

“We are asking our leaders, who already have high vaccination rates, to illustrate their example,” the company said. “We’re hoping this will influence our frontline allies even more to vaccinate.”

Uber and lift told its corporate employees last week that they would have to show proof they had been vaccinated before returning to company offices.

“The vaccination requirement is the most effective way to create a safe environment and give our team members peace of mind when they return to the office,” said Lyft spokeswoman Ashley Adams.

But those mandates didn’t extend to the workers with whom companies contract to transport millions of customers to their destinations. Drivers are being encouraged to get vaccinated, but neither Lyft or Uber have plans to require them.

Public health experts have warned that limited mandates could widen the gap between the nation’s high- and low-wage workers without furthering the public health goal of substantially increasing vaccination rates.

They also say it’s nave to think that workers opposing vaccines for ideological reasons suddenly changed their minds after the company’s high-paid executives received the shots.

“Ultimately we want to make sure they have a really wide reach,” said Dr., Vice Dean of Population Health and Health Equity at the University of California, San Francisco. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo said about the company’s directions. “Failing to do so, I think, will only make others more suspicious of this type of mandate.”

Legally, companies are likely to be on solid ground if they mandate vaccines. Last year, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Said that employers may require vaccinations, although companies that do so could still face lawsuits.

Ingham, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, said companies that have been mandated will have to make potentially difficult decisions.

“They have to refuse to vaccinate high performers and low performers,” he said. “They have to be consistent.” Reasons why an employee may be exempt include religious belief or disability, although the process of sorting them out on an individual basis promises to be a difficult one.

Companies may also face pushback from state governments. According to the National Convention of State Legislatures, ten states have passed legislation limiting the need for vaccines for students, employees, or the public.

Disney is among the few big companies pursuing a broader vaccine mandate for its employees, even with pushback from some employees.

In addition to mandating vaccines for non-union workers who are on site, Disney said all new workers — union and non-union — will need to be fully vaccinated before they can start their jobs. Non-hourly workers include theme park guest-relations staff, in-park photographers, executive assistants, and some seasonal theme park employees.

It was the farthest Disney could go without sign-offs from the dozens of unions that represent the bulk of its workforce. For example, Walt Disney World in Florida has more than 65,000 employees; There are about 38,000 union members.

Disney is now seeking union approval for the mandate in both Florida and California, where tens of thousands of workers are unionized at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. Most leaders in Disney unions appear to be in favor of a mandate—as long as accommodations can be worked out for those who refuse a vaccine for medical, religious or other acceptable reasons.

“Vaccination is safe and effective and is the best line of defense to protect workers, frontline or otherwise,” Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, which represents nearly 8,000 attraction workers and patrons at Disney World, said in a statement. Said in phone interview.

Clinton declined to comment on any pushback from his membership, but another Disney World union leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a “reasonable number” of his members were at Disney-mandated arms. I was vaccinated, citing personal preference and fear of vaccines.

“The company has probably made a calculation and decided that some people will unfortunately leave rather than protect themselves, and that will happen,” the person said.

lanan nguyen Contributed reporting.

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