Health

Corporations are asking the White Home to postpone the Biden Covid vaccination mandate till after the vacations

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US President Joe Biden will give an update on the Covid-19 Response and Vaccination program on October 14, 2021 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

Nicholas Comb | AFP | Getty Images

Concerned that President Joe Biden’s Covid vaccination mandate for private companies could lead to a massive brain drain, corporate groups are asking the White House to postpone the rule until after the holiday season.

White House officials in the Office of Management and Budget held dozens of meetings with unions, industry lobbyists, and individuals last week as the government conducts its final mandate review, which requires companies with 100 or more employees to ensure they are vaccinated against Covid or weekly tested for the virus. It is estimated that around two thirds of private sector workers are affected.

OMB officials have several meetings on Monday and Tuesday with groups representing dentists, freight forwarders, recruitment agencies and brokers, among others.

The American Trucking Associations, which will meet with OMB on Tuesday, warned the government last week that many drivers are likely to quit rather than get vaccinated, further disrupting the national supply chain at a time when the industry already has 80,000 drivers has scarce.

The Transport Association estimates that companies covered by the mandate could lose 37% of drivers through retirement, layoffs and employee changes to smaller companies that are not covered by the requirements.

“Imposing vaccination orders on employers, which in turn will result in employees being vaccinated, will create a workforce crisis for our industry and the communities, families and businesses we serve,” wrote Chris Spear, Association President and CEO. in a letter to the OMB last Thursday.

Retailers are also particularly concerned that the mandate could spark a surge in layoffs, which would exacerbate staffing problems in companies already short of staff, said Evan Armstrong, a lobbyist with the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

“It was already a hectic Christmas season, as you know, with fights in the supply chain,” Armstrong told CNBC after meeting White House officials last Monday. “This is a difficult policy to implement. It would be even more difficult during the holiday season.”

According to a KFF poll published last month, 30 percent of unvaccinated workers said they were leaving their jobs instead of following a vaccine or testing mandate. Goldman Sachs said in an analysis released in September that the mandate could hurt the already tight labor market. However, it is said that the responses to surveys are often exaggerated and not that many people actually stop.

The Occupational Safety and Health Agency submitted its final ruling to the OMB on October 12, and the mandate is expected to take effect soon after the agency’s review is complete.

The National Retail Federation, Trucking Association and Retail Leaders Group are urging White House officials to give companies 90 days to meet the mandate and postpone implementation at the end of January at the earliest.

The Business Roundtable told CNBC that it supports the White House’s vaccination efforts, but the government “should give employers the time necessary to adhere to them, including considering retention issues, supply chain challenges.” and the upcoming Christmas season ”.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which met the OMB on October 15, also called on the government to postpone implementation of the rule until after the Christmas season. OMB officials declined to comment on the implementation period.

However, former OSHA officials who will enforce the mandate told CNBC that companies will likely have some time to enforce the rules.

Jordan Barab, OSHA deputy assistant secretary during the Obama administration, said the administration will likely give companies around 10 weeks, like federal contractors, to fully vaccinate employees.

However, the fulfillment date for weekly testing could come earlier, he said.

“OSHA has always taken precautions when the necessary equipment may be scarce, for example to suspend enforcement, when an employer can demonstrate that they made a good faith effort to obtain that equipment,” Barab said. “You can schedule weekly tests relatively early, but you can also provide extra time in case the supply is insufficient.”

Last Monday, the National Association of Manufacturers, in a letter to OMB and OSHA boss James Frederick, called on the administration to exempt companies from the requirements if they have already implemented company-wide mandates or if they have achieved a certain level of vaccinations among employees through voluntary programs if certified by a local health authority.

Robyn Boerstling, a top lobbyist for the manufacturer group, called the federal requirements “unnecessary and costly” for companies that already support vaccinations for their employees. Boerstling also expressed concerns that companies with little more than 100 employees could lose valuable employees to competitors not covered by the mandate.

“A realistic implementation period can enable the personnel planning necessary in view of the acute shortage of skilled workers and the ongoing challenges in the supply chain by supporting the need to keep production open and operational,” wrote Boerstling in the letter to the administration last Monday.

The American Trucking Associations in their letter last week also urged the administration to consider exempting truckers from the mandate, arguing that drivers are similar to teleworkers in that they do not interact with another employee for days or weeks.

Industry lobbyists have also raised concerns about the cost of testing and who will pay those costs. The Retail Industry Leaders Association believes that employees who choose not to have a vaccination should pay for their weekly testing.

“If people are allowed to refuse the vaccine and the employer is doing the testing for cost reasons, then there is no real motivation for those employees to get the vaccine,” said Armstrong. With an estimated 4 million unvaccinated retail workers, testing costs will add up quickly, he said.

However, Barab said that OSHA generally requires employers to cover the cost of equipment and procedures required by its rules throughout the agency’s 50-year history.

Industry concern over the employment impact of Biden’s vaccine mandate comes after a record 4.3 million workers quit in August, the highest turnover in 20 years. The retail sector was particularly hard hit, with 721,000 workers leaving their positions.

Goldman Sachs says the mandate would actually increase employment by reducing the transmission of Covid and mitigating health risks that have hindered labor force participation and encouraging return to many of the 5 million workers who have left the job market since the pandemic.

Global supply chains are also strained with a surge in pandemic demand for durable goods, factory closures in countries like China and Vietnam, and a shortage of truck drivers and skilled dockers on the west coast.

The White House admits there is little it can do to address macro problems such as increased demand and overseas factories. But it has recently taken some steps to help, like brokering a deal to keep the major West Coast ports open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We already have problems with the supply chain; we already have labor shortage issues, ”Ed Egee, a top lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, told CNBC after the group met with OMB last Tuesday. “This mandate cannot be implemented in 2021 without serious consequences for the American economy.”

– CNBC’s Nate Rattner and Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.

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