Biden presses companies to get ahead of vaccine mandate
President Biden is pushing companies to get ahead of the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate by imposing their own mandates amid simmering concerns that some employees will quit when the national requirement takes effect.
Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more workers is still being crafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), prompting the administration to fill that time by encouraging more employers to implement their own vaccination rules beforehand.
Companies taking that step are getting a shout-out from the White House.
“We’re touting companies as far reaching as United Airlines to Tyson’s Foods who are leading their industries on putting forth requirements that are going to help keep their workplaces safe and their business strong and consistent. Economists from across the board agree that requirements will help in our recovery,” a White House official told The Hill.
When asked why the administration would rather see companies come out now with their own mandates instead of waiting until the OSHA ruling, the official said, “There is no reason to wait to put forth these requirements and we encourage every company to do what will boost vaccinations.”
Some business groups, however, say employers have real concerns that workers may quit instead of rolling up their sleeves.
“The administration’s stated goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. If employers mandate it before they are required to, that serves the overall goal. Employers have been able to do this for some time but many have been hesitant fearing the possible loss of employees,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of workplace policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“The forthcoming OSHA rule is what is creating the anxiety for employers—they don’t know how their employees will respond and are worried about employee departures,” he added.
Biden’s rule is expected to come out within the next month, and OSHA will publish an Emergency Temporary Standard to enact the mandate. It is expected to affect around 80 million workers. Businesses that fail to comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
Many members of the business community have argued that the Biden announcement about a forthcoming vaccine mandate has essentially frozen some companies in place because they might not want to put resources toward a vaccine program that might not align with the administration’s eventual mandate. Some companies could also be worried about employee retention if they implement a program before they need to.
The CEO of South Motors, a group of Florida auto dealerships in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, told The Associated Press about fears of losing workers over the federal vaccine mandate because of how difficult it’s already been to find employees and keep them. The CEO of Rhode Island-based VIBCO Vibrators, which makes industrial vibrators for dump trucks, predicted the vaccine mandate will be detrimental to 15 percent of employees.
But some state-level mandates have not led to the kinds of worker shortages initially feared. In New York, a mandate for health workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has boosted the industry’s vaccination rate, and has not resulted in widespread facility closures and mass resignations.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain has praised United Airlines, AT&T and other companies for their vaccine mandates. He tweeted an article that said United had less than one percent of employees refuse to get the vaccine following its mandate.
“Lots of talk about threatened resignations in the face of vaccine requirements, but the reality? ‘At Novant Health …in North Carolina, 375 workers were suspended … [but] the vaccination rate [hit] over 99 percent of its more than 35,000 employees,’” he said this past week.
“There have been — some of these companies have been much bigger, larger companies, where they have effectively implemented these mandates and requirements. And for the most part, we have not seen a mass exodus of employees,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. “Yes, individuals have decided not to get vaccinated and then have therefore not, no longer been employed. That’s nobody’s preference.”
But, she said the increases in vaccinations for the companies that have mandated it is a “good sign” and “a model” for how the mandates the federal government will impose will be treated.
A former OSHA official under President Obama said that in most cases of forthcoming workplace standards, companies typically comply ahead of the ruling.
“If employers know OSHA is going to issue a standard requiring certain safety measures, employers start to comply ahead of the requirement. You see this with most OSHA standards — that often by the time it is issued, many employers have complied or are on their way,” said Debbie Berkowitz, chief of staff and senior policy adviser for OSHA during the Obama administration.
Some GOP governors have threatened legal action over the Biden administration’s mandate, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas attempted to block Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses on Thursday through an amendment on the Senate floor. Senators were split down the middle on the vote and it fell short of the 60 votes needed for adoption.
While other Republican lawmakers and governors have denounced the federal mandate, health experts have praised it as a way to get more Americans vaccinated.
When the White House first announced the forthcoming rule, it said it expects more companies to require vaccines while OSHA is in the rulemaking process.
“Given that the White House has made it clear that the President stands behind OSHA issuing this standard, employers know it is coming,” Berkowitz said. “And what we found when I was at OSHA, most employers want to do the right thing and they will comply.”
An Axios-Ipsos poll in September found that 60 percent of the public supported the vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses.
Psaki on Twitter this past week shared a list of companies that yielded positive results from their vaccine mandates, including Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, which went from 68 to 98 percent of its workforce vaccinated after they required it.
She also cited a Goldman Sachs estimate that “the new requirements will boost the number of vaccinated individuals by 12 million people, and create a net positive impact on employment.”