by Mae Anderson and David Koenig
NEW YORK (AP) – Businesses announcing vaccine mandates say some workers who were on the fence have since been vaccinated against COVID-19. But several holdouts remain – a possible sign of what is to come once a federal mandate goes into effect.
Before President Joe Biden’s September 9 announcement that companies with more than 100 workers would be required to vaccinate, 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 need to enforce 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 would begin terminating 593 employees for refusing vaccinations over the next few days. Other companies are offering options, including weekly tests or working away or away from other employees.
The federal mandate will cover 100 million Americans — private sector workers as well as health care workers and federal contractors. It’s a high-stakes gamble by the president to boost vaccination rates in the U.S. According to the CDC, about 77% of American adults have received a single dose of the vaccine.
In August, San Francisco became the first major city in the country to require proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 for people dining inside restaurants, leaving employees until October 13 to get shots. Akash Kapoor, founder of Curry Up Now Indian restaurant chain, said more than 90% of his employees in his downtown San Francisco location are now vaccinated, with one or two per store refusing. He is getting unvaccinated workers tested twice a week.
“It lets employees who have been vaccinated feel safe,” he said.
Alejandra Segura, 28, a senior learning and development coordinator at Curry Up Now, said she was concerned about the poor response to the vaccine, so she held off. But the vaccination mandate propelled her to action, and she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on September 20.
“It’s a good thing that we need to get a vaccine to ensure people’s safety,” Segura said.
“Experience says these mandates move the needle substantially on employees’ willingness to vaccinate,” said Laura Boudreau, an assistant professor at Columbia University who studies labor issues. She said she believes that only a small fraction of employees will quit – possibly those already close to retirement and who rely heavily on vaccines.
The Biden administration has said companies will face a $13,600 fine per violation and have the option of mandatory weekly test vaccinations.
The question remains to be answered whether employers or the government will pay for the mandatory tests. Regulations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the office that is charged with enforcing the mandate, will be drawn up over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in the US are on the rise, with the seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths climbing above the 2,000 threshold last week for the first time since March. And this week, several state deadlines for vaccinating health care workers come in, raising fears of worsening staff shortages in hospitals and nursing homes if some people choose to quit or be fired or suspended. .
A survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that nearly 59% of remote workers support vaccine requirements in their own workplaces, compared with 47% of those currently working in-person. In. About a quarter of workers – in person and remote – were opposed.
United Airlines executives say their mandate has worked. About 96% of the airline’s 67,000 US employees have been vaccinated and another 3% are seeking exemptions that could result in them being placed on unpaid leave. Less than 1% will be fired, which officials said will not affect airline operations.
Pilot unions in the US and the Southwest are asking the Biden administration and Congress to offer weekly tests or the option of showing immunity by previously contracting COVID-19. The president of the American Airlines union warned that the “mass termination” of unvaccinated pilots could lead to a pilot shortage during the December holidays. Neither American nor Southwest has said they would require vaccination or offered testing as an alternative.
Delta Air Lines dropped the vaccination requirement, but said that starting in November, unvaccinated workers on the company’s health plan will have to pay a $200 monthly surcharge.
Delta’s chief health officer, Dr. Henry Ting, said about 20,000 employees had not been vaccinated when the company announced plans to surcharge. Last month, about 9,000 of them got at least one shot. About 82.5% of Delta’s 75,000 employees have been fully vaccinated. Ting said fewer than five workers have sought medical exemptions and none have sought religious exemptions.
“The first 20,000 were very curious, and we got about 70% (vaccination) early,” Ting said, but the remaining uneducated staff “are a very different group.”
Ting said the holdouts are more likely to be black, brown, or younger than the first group. “Many of them are not anti-vaxxers,” he said. “They were on the fence, they’re scared, they want to make their decision on their own time.”
Some other large companies that have announced rules requiring in-office workers to be vaccinated now or in the coming weeks include Google, McDonald’s (US-based office workers), Microsoft and Goldman Sachs.
Amtrak last week extended the vaccination deadline for all workers from three weeks to November 22. Currently about 60% of its workers have received at least one shot.
Meatpacking giant Tyson Foods, whose workforce has been badly hit by the coronavirus, is requiring all of its employees to be vaccinated by November 1. About 80% of Tyson’s more than 100,000 workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 50% when it announced the mandate on Aug.
The company has started incentives for employees to get the vaccine. This poultry division is running a once a week lottery for five weeks, each week for $10,000 for workers who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
New York began implementing a vaccine mandate for some businesses on September 13. Art DePol said that about 16 of their 24 employees at Muyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes in Times Square had already been vaccinated, three were vaccinated when needed, and five declined.
DePol is working on setting up weekly tests for unvaccinated workers so it can keep them on time.
“It’s so hard to find good people right now, I don’t want to lose the good people I have.”
Koenig reported from Dallas. AP writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.