US President Joe Biden gives an update on the Covid-19 response and vaccination program, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 14, 2021.
Nicholas Cam | AFP | Getty Images
Fearing that President Joe Biden’s mandate for a Covid vaccine to private companies could lead to a mass exodus of staff, business groups are pleading with the White House to delay the rule until after the holiday season.
White House officials in the Office of Management and Budget held dozens of meetings with labor unions, industry lobbyists and individuals last week as the administration conducts its final review of the mandate, which will require companies with 100 or more employees to ensure they are vaccinated. against Covid or tested weekly for the virus. It is estimated that they cover nearly two-thirds of the private sector workforce.
Office Management Bureau officials held several meetings on Monday and Tuesday with groups representing dentists, trucking companies, recruiters, landlords and others.
Retailers are particularly concerned that the mandate could lead to a spike in resignations that would exacerbate staffing problems at companies already short of people, said Evan Armstrong, a lobbyist at the Retail Industry Leaders Association.
“It’s been a really hectic holiday season, you know, with supply chain struggles,” Armstrong told CNBC after meeting the White House last Monday. “This is a difficult policy to implement. It will be even more difficult during the holiday season.”
Thirty percent of workers said they would quit their job rather than comply with a vaccine or an authorization test, according to a KFF survey published last month. Goldman Sachs, in an analysis published in September, said the mandate could hurt an already tight labor market. However, she said survey responses are often exaggerated and not many people will quit.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed over its final rule to the Office of Financial Management on October 12, and the mandate is expected to go into effect shortly after the agency finishes its review.
The National Retail Federation and the group of retail leaders asked White House officials in meetings last week to give companies 90 days to comply with the mandate – Lobbyists said the actual date was pushed back to late January at the earliest.
The Business Roundtable told CNBC that it supports the White House’s vaccination efforts, but that the administration “must allow time for employers to comply, and that includes taking into account employee retention issues, supply chain challenges and the upcoming holiday season.”
American Chamber of Commerce, Which met with OMB on October 15And He also called on the administration to postpone the application of the rule until after the festive season. Officials at the OMB office declined to comment.
However, former OSHA officialsAnd that will implement the mandate, he told CNBC that the companies will likely have some time to implement the rules.
Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of occupational health and safety during the Obama administration, said the administration would likely give companies about 10 weeks, as it did with federal contractors, until employees are fully vaccinated.
However, the compliance date may come sooner for weekly testing, he said.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has long had provisions regarding its required equipment, for example, which may not be available for a suspension of enforcement if the employer can demonstrate its good faith efforts to procure that equipment,” Barab said. “They may schedule a relatively early date for weekly testing but also provide some extra time in the event that supplies are insufficient.”
The National Association of Manufacturers, in a letter to OMB and OSHA President James Frederick last Monday, asked management to exempt companies from the requirements if they have already implemented company-wide mandates, or achieve some level of vaccination among employees through voluntary programs if they are approved by by your local public health agency.
Robin Borsting, a senior lobbyist for the Manufacturers GroupAnd She described the federal requirements as “redundant and expensive” for companies already subsidizing vaccination among their employees. Boerstling also expressed concern that companies with barely 100 employees could lose high-value people to non-mandated competitors.
“The realistic implementation period could allow for necessary workforce planning given the acute shortage of skilled workers and ongoing supply chain challenges by underpinning the need to keep manufacturing open and operational,” Boerstling wrote in the letter to management last Monday.
Industry lobbyists have also raised concerns about the cost of testing, and who will cover those costs. The Retail Industry Leaders Association believes that employees who choose not to vaccinate should pay for weekly testing.
“If people are allowed to refuse to vaccinate, and the employer is taking test commitments from a cost perspective, there would be no real motivation for those employees to get the vaccine,” Armstrong said. With an estimated 4 million retail workers unvaccinated, he said, testing costs would also rise rapidly.
However, Barab said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration generally requires employers to cover the cost of equipment and procedures required under its rules throughout the agency’s 50-year history.
Industry concerns about the impact of the Biden vaccine mandate on employment come after 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August, the highest turnover in 20 years. The retail industry was hit particularly hard, with 721,000 workers leaving their jobs.
Goldman Sachs says the mandate will already boost employment by reducing transmission of the Covid virus and mitigating health risks that have been a burden on workforce participation, encouraging many of the 5 million workers who have left the labor market since the pandemic to return.
Global supply chains are also strained amid pandemic-related increased demand for durable goods, factory closures in places like China and Vietnam, and a shortage of truck drivers and skilled stevedoring workers on the West Coast.
The White House acknowledges that there is not much it can do to address macro issues such as increased demand and foreign plant operations. But it has recently taken some steps to help, such as brokering a deal to keep major West Coast ports open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We already have problems with the supply chain; we already have issues with manpower shortages,” Ed Ige, a senior member of the National Retail Federation’s lobbyist, told CNBC after the group’s meeting with OMB last Tuesday. “This mandate cannot be implemented in 2021 without serious repercussions for the US economy,” he added.
CNBC’s Nate Ratner and Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.