Business leaders broadly agree they need to get more workers vaccinated to keep the U.S. economy humming, but they’re split over how best to do that.
Some are dangling bigger bonuses or other incentives to cajole employees into getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Others have started requiring it.
Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. introduced an incentive program that offers employees $1,500 to get vaccinated, and $3,000 if a mill achieves 75 percent participation.
Companies from Arkansas-based Walmart to Microsoft Corp. have imposed vaccine mandates mostly on white-collar workers returning to offices. Meatpacker Tyson Foods Inc. took a harder line, saying all its workers must get the vaccine by Nov. 1.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” Donnie King, Tyson’s chief executive, wrote in a memo to the company’s roughly 120,000 U.S. employees. “We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated—today, under half of our team members are.”
These strategies come with risks for employers, their workers and their customers, and their outcomes could shape the course of the pandemic.
More than a third of American adults have not been vaccinated, according to recent U.S. data. Firms using a lighter touch risk workplace outbreaks. Those mandating shots risk losing workers in a tight job market.
Each CEO cites myriad reasons for their vaccine strategy, though many also point to new Centers for Disease Control guidelines relating to how vaccinated people transmit the Delta variant.
Some want to prevent worker illnesses or absences from crippling their operations. Others want to end remote work. Still others face complications related to union rules.
Walmart executives didn’t make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory this spring in part because executives worried it wasn’t readily available to all who wanted it and wasn’t yet fully FDA approved, said a person familiar with the matter. Earlier this month, Walmart said it would require vaccines for U.S. corporate staff and regional managers. It is not mandating the shots for store workers.
A Walmart spokesman said the company hopes that by asking executives to be vaccinated, they will “influence even more of our frontline associates to become vaccinated.”
Walmart is offering a $150 bonus to employees who get the shot.
Some U.S. airlines are requiring vaccines for new hires but not existing staff. Manufacturing giants such as General Electric Co., Caterpillar Inc. and the big three U.S. automakers have said they aren’t mandating vaccines.
Snap-on Inc., a Wisconsin-based high-end tools manufacturer with a largely blue-collar workforce, won’t mandate the vaccine, says Chief Executive Nicholas T. Pinchuk, because he believes such a move would backfire.
“I don’t think the way to do it is to tell people, somehow because they don’t get the vaccine, they are flawed,” Pinchuk said. “They don’t respond to that.”
He instead talks up the benefits of the vaccine. The company has offered employees time off to get the shot. Snap-on’s overall vaccination rate is above the national average, with more factory workers than corporate staff having received it.
Companies mandating vaccinations for workers represented by labor unions must negotiate those requirements.
Labor union leaders have sent mixed messages on vaccine requirements. Some have insisted such changes be reached only through collective bargaining, while others have come out publicly in support.
General Motors Co. and its rivals have decided to reinstate mask wearing across their workforces after discussions with a joint task force of the UAW union.
A UAW spokesman said a vaccine mandate would be subject to negotiations with union officials, although the union is encouraging the shots.
U.S. employers can require all workers present in a workplace be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Most companies say they will allow for health and religious exemptions, and some are still determining how they will respond to workers who do not comply.
Lourenco Goncalves, the Cleveland-Cliffs CEO who started what he characterizes as the “most generous vaccine incentive program in the world,” said he isn’t mandating the vaccine because he doesn’t need every employee to get the shot to lower chances of outbreaks at worksites.
Goncalves said about 60 percent of the company’s 25,000 workers have been vaccinated as of late last week, although some mills had more success than others. Nineteen of the company’s 46 work sites now qualify for the full cash incentive. The incentive program expired Saturday.
Sources: Northwest Indiana Times, Wall Street Journal