Business lobby calls for administration to ‘pump the brakes’ on vaccine mandate
The Biden administration’s looming vaccine-or-test mandate has unsettled several business groups, who are calling for the rule to be postponed until after the holidays.
These business groups, representing sectors ranging from retail to trucking, scheduled meetings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this week to discuss their concerns about the federal requirements.
Groups worry that the mandate will lead to bulk resignations and add to industries’ struggles. Businesses are already experiencing a shortage of workers in the lead-up to the holiday season.
But many public health officials have supported vaccine mandates, saying they might be the country’s best bet to end the pandemic.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was tasked with drafting the rule announced by President Biden last month that requires employers with at least 100 employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing. Employers could face penalties up to $14,000 per violation.
OSHA issued a written rule to the OMB earlier this month for review, and the office booked meetings with dozens of interest groups and individuals over the past two weeks, including the National Retail Federation.
The National Retail Federation, which has dedicated millions of dollars to vaccine incentives, has “serious questions” about the forthcoming rule, particularly its “one size fits all” approach, Edwin Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development, said.
“We’re really concerned how that’s going to impact us,” Egee said. “There’re already over a million vacant positions in the retail industry, and this is not going to help that, especially as we’re going to try to hire up more as we move into the holiday season.”
Egee said he is urging the White House to “pump the brakes a little” with an at least 90-day implementation period. The longer timeline would allow officials to see how COVID-19 trends go and to address “the complexities” of the requirements, including mapping out the logistics of weekly testing for unvaccinated employees, he said.
“Simply imposing this mandate on all employers, regardless of their facilities, regardless of the style of their operations, it could be really problematic potentially … as retailers move into the holiday season,” he said.
The American Trucking Associations also called for the implementation period to extend at least 90 days in a letter sent to the OMB last week, citing that the industry could lose up to 37 percent of drivers with retirements, resignations and job changes.
“Even if the ultimate goal is something we all agree on — increasing vaccination protections and defeating the COVID-19 Pandemic — it is vital that public health measures first do no harm,” Chris Spear, the association’s president and CEO, wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.
American Apparel and Footwear Association President and CEO Steve Lamar said his organization has called for a “realistic implementation period,” including a potential delay if the administration does not answer their questions on topics such as testing “satisfactorily.”
“A lot of confusion has created and fueled concerns during the course of a pandemic,” Lamar said. “And a brand new vaccine mandate, testing mandate that adds to that confusion, adds to that concern is not what we need right now.”
The labor market has already been affected by shortages as the quits rate reached a record high of 2.9 percent in August when millions of Americans left their jobs voluntarily.
White House officials have consistently defended the federal vaccine requirements as effective and key to exiting the pandemic, touting an at least 20 percent increase in vaccination rates in companies and institutions requiring the shots.
Biden had also previously announced a vaccine mandate for federal employers and contractors. White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said last week these rules would not cause disruptions to government services, including holiday travel, because the “small number” of those who don’t comply are first given education and counseling.
“Agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they’ve gone through a process of education and counseling,” he said.
Biden has not filled the role of OMB director in the nine months of his presidency after withdrawing Neera Tanden’s nomination for the position. In the meantime, acting Director Shalanda Young has served in the role.
A Goldman Sachs analysis from last month predicted the Biden requirement, expected to apply to almost 80 million workers, could boost the vaccination rate by 12 million people by March 2022 but warned the labor market could take a hit.
Two of the biggest lobbying groups in corporate America — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable — previously said they were not against the federal mandate.
A recent statement from Business Roundtable, however, additionally called for OMB to “provide the flexibility for companies to comply, taking into account” workforce shortages and supply chain issues ahead of the holiday season.
Twelve percent of unvaccinated workers said they’d get the vaccine if presented with a vaccine-or-test mandate, while 30 percent said they’d leave their job, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from last month concluded.
But Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the requirement will overall help businesses keep functioning amid any local outbreaks in the upcoming months.
Although a small number of employees may quit due to the mandate, Benjamin said businesses could lose even more staff if a COVID-19 outbreak strikes, potentially forcing the business to shut down for a few weeks during the holiday season.
“This is not a barrier to getting good business done,” he said. “This was actually … a business friendly proposition.”