Covid Vaccine Mandates Sweep U.S. Businesses As Delta Expands
United Airlines ramp services employee John Dalessandro receives a COVID-19 vaccine at United’s on-site clinic at O’Hare International Airport on March 9, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images
The US government may not require everyone to receive Covid-19 vaccines, but large employers in US businesses are stepping into the void.
More than a dozen major U.S. companies, including Walmart, Google, Tyson Foods and United Airlines, recently announced vaccination warrants for some or all of their employees.
“With the rapid rise in the number of contagious and dangerous variant COVID-19 cases leading to increased rates of serious illness and hospitalization among the unvaccinated U.S. population, now is the right time to take the step following to ensure a fully immunized workforce, ”Dr Claudia Coplein, Tyson’s chief medical officer, said in a statement Tuesday.
The United States reported a seven-day average of more than 108,600 new cases per day on Sunday, up 36% from the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. With 83% of nationally sequenced coronavirus cases originating from the delta variant, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccinations are seen by health officials and company management as the way the safest way to bring back employees who have worked remotely to the office.
Although some employers now unilaterally prescribe vaccines, most have limited the scope of their advice to certain offices or specific groups of workers.
Google and Facebook have made Covid vaccination mandatory for anyone returning to their US offices. Walmart, which has 1.6 million employees in the United States, has imposed a vaccination mandate on all company and management staff, while store workers are required to wear masks in countries with high risk.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon described the retailer’s plans to continue “to gradually come back to our offices with the idea of getting closer to pre-pandemic levels after Labor Day.”
In April 2020, a Gallup poll found that 70% of employees surveyed worked from home. Companies are trying to get their workforce back to the office, but some have already started pushing back their return dates as the number of Covid cases rises. At the end of last month, Google extended its deadline to return to power to October 18, a delay of more than a month.
“While I am not a big fan of mandates, we need to use a variety of incentives to encourage as many people as possible to practice effective infection control,” said Dr Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at the ‘Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “If this is the best or the only way to motivate some people, then this is a tool in our toolbox.”
United Airlines said on Friday that all of its roughly 67,000 U.S. employees must provide proof that they were vaccinated against Covid by October 25, becoming the first major airline in the country to issue such a warrant. Employees risk being made redundant if they don’t comply, although United has said there will be exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
“We know that some of you will not agree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” wrote United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and airline chairman, Brett Hart, to employees announcing the vaccine requirement. “But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your coworkers than keeping you safe while you are at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated. “
Low-cost airline Frontier Airlines followed suit hours later with its own tenure, but said employees must either show proof of vaccination by October 1 or take regular Covid tests.
For better or worse, vaccines and other anti-virus tools such as masks have become controversial in the United States. But health officials say the measures are needed to save lives.
“Leaving it to the individual means that there are people who are going to make a choice that puts their colleagues in danger,” said Dr Paul Offit, doctor specializing in infectious diseases at the children’s hospital. of Philadelphia. “So I think it’s a responsible, important and necessary thing to do.”
Even companies with the most extensive mandates are required by law to allow certain exceptions.
Facebook vice president of personnel Lori Goler said the company of nearly 59,000 employees worldwide will have a process in place for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and that she works with experts “to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”
The Alphabet Workers Union, which represents more than 800 employees of Google and its parent company, expressed concern about exceptions to Google’s vaccine mandate, saying the company had not provided enough details on the exemption process. A union spokesperson said the mandate exists “to convince white-collar workers to come back to office” while “a load of people” remains unvaccinated.
Google did not respond to a request for comment. Alphabet employed more than 135,000 people worldwide last year.
Other companies have been pushed back by unions over their vaccine guidelines. After Tyson announced last week that all 120,000 workers in his office and factory needed to be vaccinated, United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 24,000 Tyson meat packing workers, expressed reservations about to the requirement of vaccines that do not have full FDA approval.
“The UFCW will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss this vaccination mandate and to ensure that the rights of these workers are protected, and that this policy is implemented fairly,” UFCW, Marc Perrone, in a statement. Perrone added that he wanted to make sure unionized workers at Tyson were given paid time off to receive and adjust to the vaccine.
United and its pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association, agreed earlier this year not to implement a vaccine mandate for its nearly 13,000 airmen. United offered additional pay to pilots who received the vaccine and up to three days off for flight attendants. More than 90% of pilots and about 80% of flight attendants are vaccinated, the company said. The union said some airmen who are not planning to be vaccinated should speak with their chief pilot.
“The vaccine requirement represents a job change that we believe warrants further negotiations to ensure our safety, well-being and bargaining rights are maintained,” said the pilots’ union.
Other airlines, including American, Southwest and Delta, said they had made no changes to their policies to encourage, but not mandate, vaccines for their employees. In May, Delta was the first major carrier to require the vaccine for new employees. United had followed suit. American and Delta have offered incentives like extra time off for employees who get vaccinated. Delta says more than 73% of its staff are vaccinated.
When asked how it would respond to a potential company-wide requirement, Dennis Tajer, spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents some 15,000 pilots at American, said, “Our position is that it is a personal choice between pilots and their healthcare professional. negotiator for the pilots, any change to the conditions of employment must be discussed with the representative union. Last week, however, the union urged pilots to be vaccinated and estimated in a staff memo that about 60% of them are vaccinated.
By forcing vaccinations, American businesses are taking action in a way that federal lawmakers cannot, said Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law. In addition to requiring vaccines for its own employees, Reiss said the federal government “probably does not have the power to say that everyone in the United States should get vaccinated or pay a fine.”
But insurance agencies might suggest it, suggests a recent editorial by Dr Elisabeth Rosenthal and Glenn Kramon in The New York Times. In the model of policies that refuse to cover injuries sustained during hazardous activities, the authors indicate that insurers could begin to “penalize the unvaccinated” because their refusal to be vaccinated poses a threat to public health. Rosenthal is editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News and Kramon is a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Companies also have the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on their side, said Thomas Lenz, a professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California. As long as their tenures comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the commission said in May, companies could require that “all employees physically entering the workplace be vaccinated” against the coronavirus.
Despite advice from the EEOC, some companies still refrain from issuing warrants for fear of alienating their staff, Lenz said.
“We see that employers are just as concerned about what they perceive to be a skills shortage, a labor shortage, as anything about deciding to make vaccinations mandatory,” Lenz said. “And for this reason, employers don’t want to scare people off because they think they might be able to accommodate and retain the workforce in some other way.”
-CNBC Nate rattner contributed reports.