Workplace Vaccine Mandates Reveal Divide Among Workers
The tide has started to turn on the vaccine mandates of companies, with large employers including the Walt Disney Company, Facebook, Google and Walmart, introducing more stringent requirements for employees returning to the workplace. But the policies come with important caveats as leaders juggle public health, labor relations and results, the DealBook newsletter reports.
So far, with the exception of the healthcare sector, corporate vaccine mandates have tended to cover the white-collar workers that executives want in the office, not the low-income frontline workers who are less likely to be vaccinated.
Walmart’s vaccination mandate, for example, does not cover the company’s most vulnerable employees: workers in its stores and warehouses. The retailer, the largest private employer in the United States, announced mandatory vaccination for employees at its head office and for executives traveling within the country. For an idea of the scale, about 17,000 of Walmart’s 1.6 million employees are expected to work in the new headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
One of the fears that companies have broad vaccine mandates is that they could oust workers at a time when workers are already scarce, especially in industries like retail and restaurants. At the same time, not needing vaccines can make other groups of workers anxious and more likely to quit.
“For Walmart, they have to weigh in, I think, what is a real concern about revenue, what would be the reputation of frontline workers, versus the value they could use to say, ‘We are a leader in public health now as a big employer, ”said Peter Berg, professor of labor relations at Michigan State University.
“Based on Walmart’s calculations, they can say that it will not really benefit us as an organization to do this,” he added.
For other companies, such as airlines, negotiating mandates with unions, themselves mixed on the issue, adds complexity. Under an agreement reached in May between United Airlines and its union, the Air Line Pilots Association, for example, vaccinations will not be mandatory for pilots. But an agreement between Hollywood’s major unions will allow studios to demand that everyone on a production set be vaccinated.
“If you look at the division of those who are not vaccinated, these are the low income people, these are the people who are less likely to be insured, these are the people in states that reflect the politicization of the pandemic.” said Dr Kirsten. Bibbins-Domingo, associate dean for population health and health equity at the University of California, San Francisco.
Companies that adopt partial mandates that “widen” that gap, she said, “would not go any further” in achieving what immunization campaigns are supposed to accomplish.
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