Employer vaccine mandates convert some US workers, but not all

Some mandates seem to have converted hesitant workers, but employers are still dealing with holdouts
Last Updated : 29 September 2021, 06:18 IST

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Businesses that have announced vaccine mandates say some workers who had been on the fence have since gotten inoculated against Covid-19. But many holdouts remain — a likely sign of what is to come once a federal mandate goes into effect.

Even before President Joe Biden's Sept. 9 announcement that companies with more than 100 workers would have to require vaccinations, dozens of companies, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Disney issued ultimatums to most workers. And smaller companies in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans have been required to implement mandates for customers and workers.

Some mandates seem to have converted hesitant workers, but employers are still dealing with holdouts. United said late Tuesday it will begin terminating 593 employees over the next few days for refusing to get vaccinated. Other companies are offering alternatives, including weekly testing or working remotely or away from other staff.

The federal mandate will cover as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors. It is a high-stakes gambit by the president to boost the vaccination rate in the US About 77 per cent of American adults have had one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.

In August, San Francisco became the first major city in the nation to require proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 for people dining inside restaurants, with employees having until Oct. 13 to get the shot. Akash Kapoor, founder of the Curry Up Now Indian restaurant chain, said more than 90 per cent of his employees in his downtown San Francisco location are now vaccinated, with one or two per store refusing. He's making unvaccinated workers get tested twice a week.

“It lets the employees who are vaccinated feel safe,” he said.

Alejandra Segura, 28, a senior learning and development coordinator at Curry Up Now, said she was worried about having a bad reaction to the vaccine, so she held off. But the vaccination mandate spurred her into action, and she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sept. 20.

“It's a good thing we're required to get the vaccine, to ensure people's safety,” Segura said.

“The experience says these mandates do move the needle quite a bit on employees' willingness to get vaccinated,” said Laura Boudreau, an assistant professor at Columbia University who studies labor issues. She said she believes that only a tiny fraction of employees will quit — likely those already close to retirement and who strongly distrust vaccines.

The Biden administration has said that companies will face $13,600 fines per violation and mandatory weekly testing will be the alternative to being vaccinated.

The question of whether employers or the government will pay for mandatory tests has yet to be answered. Regulations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the office charged with implementing the mandate, will be drafted over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases are surging in the US The seven-day average Covid-19 deaths climbed above the 2,000 threshold last week for the first time since March. And this week, a number of state deadlines arrive for health care workers to get vaccinated, raising fears of worsening staff shortages in hospitals and nursing homes if some opt to quit or get fired or suspended.

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that about 59 per cent of remote workers favour vaccine requirements in their own workplaces, compared with 47 per cent of those who are currently working in person. About one-quarter of workers — in person and remote — were 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 per cent are seeking an exemption, which could result in being placed on unpaid leave. Fewer than 1% will be fired, which officials said would not affect airline operations.

Pilot unions at American and Southwest are asking the Biden administration and Congress to have the option of weekly testing or showing immunity by previously contracting Covid-19. The president of the American Airlines union warned that “mass terminations” of unvaccinated pilots could cause a shortage of pilots during the December holidays. Neither American nor Southwest has said whether they will require vaccination or offer testing as an alternative.

Delta Air Lines stopped short of requiring vaccination but said that starting in November, unvaccinated workers on the company health plan will pay a $200 monthly surcharge.

Published 29 September 2021, 06:09 IST

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