Employer Vaccine Mandates Shift Some, But Not All – Press Enterprise
Written by Mae Anderson and David Koenig
New York (AFP) – The companies that announced vaccine mandates say some workers who have been on the fence since have been vaccinated against COVID-19. But many naysayers remain — a possible sign of what will happen once the federal mandate goes into effect.
Even before President Joe Biden announced on September 9 that companies with more than 100 workers would have to order vaccinations, dozens of companies, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Disney, issued warnings to most workers. Smaller companies in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans were also required to implement mandates for customers and workers.
Some states seem to have converted reluctant workers, but employers are still dealing with holdouts. United said late Tuesday that it would begin laying off 593 employees over the next few days for refusing to receive a vaccination. Other companies offer alternatives, including weekly testing or working remotely or away from other employees.
The federal mandate will cover up to 100 million Americans — private sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors. According to the CDC, it’s a high-risk maneuver by the president to increase the vaccination rate in the United States.
Akash Kapoor, founder of Indian restaurant chain Curry Up Now, implemented vaccination requirements for employees and customers at his downtown San Francisco location in August. Kapoor said more than 90% of his employees have received the vaccination, with one or two rejections in each store. It makes unvaccinated workers get checked twice a week.
“It makes vaccinated employees feel safe,” he said.
Alejandra Segura, 28, the learning and development coordinator at Curry Up Now, said she was worried about having a bad reaction to the vaccine, so she stopped. But the mandate of the vaccination series spurred her into action, and she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on September 20.
“It’s a good thing that we get the vaccine, to ensure people are safe,” Segura said.
“Experience suggests that these mandates move the needle a little too much about employees’ willingness to receive the vaccination,” said Laura Boudreaux, an assistant professor at Columbia University who studies employment issues. She said she believes that only a small percentage of employees will leave the service — likely those who are already close to retirement and who are deeply distrustful of vaccines.
The Biden administration said companies would face fines of $13,600 per violation and mandatory weekly testing would be an alternative to vaccination.
The question about whether employers or the government will pay for the mandatory exams has not been answered. Regulations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the office tasked with carrying out the mandate, will be drafted over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are rising in the United States, where the seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths rose above the 2,000 threshold last week for the first time since March. And this week, a number of official deadlines to vaccinate health care workers are hitting, raising fears that staffing shortages in hospitals and nursing homes could worsen if some choose to resign, be fired or put on hold.
A survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that about 59% of remote workers prefer vaccine requirements in their workplace, compared to 47% of those who currently work in-person. About a quarter of workers – in person and remotely – opposed.
United Airlines officials say their mandate has worked. About 96% of the airline’s 67,000 US employees have been vaccinated, and another 3% are seeking an exemption, which could lead to unpaid leave. Less than 1% will be launched, which officials said would not affect the airlines’ operations.
Experimental unions in America and the Southwest are asking the Biden administration and Congress the option of weekly testing or showing immunity by pre-contracting COVID-19. The president of the American Airlines Association has warned that “mass terminations” of unvaccinated pilots could cause a shortage of pilots during the December holiday. Neither Americans nor Southerners have said whether they will need to be vaccinated or offer the test as an alternative.
Delta Airlines has stopped asking for vaccinations but said that starting in November, unvaccinated workers in the company’s health plan will pay $200 per month in additional fees.
Delta’s chief health officer, Dr. Henry Ting, said about 20,000 employees had not been vaccinated when the company announced plans to pay the surcharge. In the past month, nearly 9,000 of them have received at least one bullet. About 82.5% of Delta’s 75,000 employees have been fully vaccinated. Ting said fewer than five workers have requested a medical exemption and no one has requested a religious exemption.
“The first 20,000 people were very excited, and we got to about 70% (vaccinated) very quickly,” said Ting, but the rest of the unvaccinated employees “are a completely different group.”
The rednecks are more likely to be black, brown, or younger than the first group, Ting said. “A lot of them are not anti-vaccination,” he said. “They’ve been on the fence, they’re scared, they want to make their own decision on their own schedule.”
Some of the other big companies that have announced rules requiring office workers to be vaccinated now or in the coming weeks include Google, McDonald’s (US office employees), Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, among others.
Amtrak last week pushed back the deadline to vaccinate all workers by three weeks to November 22. Currently, 60% of its workers have been hit by at least one bullet.
Meatpacking giant Tyson Foods, whose workforce has been hit hard by the coronavirus, is requiring all of its workers to be vaccinated by November 1. 50% when the mandate was announced on August 3rd.
The company offered incentives for workers to get the vaccine. The poultry division runs a lottery, once a week for five weeks, for $10,000 each week for workers who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
New York began enforcing a vaccine mandate for some businesses on September 13. Art DePaul said about 16 of 24 employees of Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes in Times Square have already been vaccinated, three of them got the vaccine when it was required, and five refused.
Depol is setting up weekly testing of unvaccinated workers so he can keep them on schedule.
“It’s very hard to find good people right now, I don’t want to lose the good people I have because of this.”
Koenig reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer D-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.