Vaccine mandate spawns new fear

Tom Krisher And Barbara Ortutay Associated Press
Friday, September 10, 2021
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President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging Delta variant. AP PHOTO

The new federal vaccine requirement announced by President Joe Biden has created another worry for large businesses: With help wanted signs up almost everywhere, some could lose valuable employees or won’t be able to find new ones.

Biden announced sweeping new orders Thursday that will require employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccinations against COVID-19 or offer weekly testing. The new rules could affect as many as 100 million Americans, although it’s not clear how many of those people are currently unvaccinated.

Even those who favor Biden’s decision as a way to stop the coronavirus from spreading further are afraid that vaccination-averse workers will leave, or job seekers won’t apply for their openings. Some workers may also switch to smaller companies where shots in the arm aren’t required.

“In a tight marketplace, it’s very difficult to find employees, much less to keep our current employees,” said Jonathan Chariff, CEO of South Motors, a group of 12 auto dealerships in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area with more than 1,100 workers. “It’s easy for them to go and find another job elsewhere.”

To be sure, the mandate could make some employees more comfortable working with others in tight spaces. Indeed, Chariff said his company supports Biden’s move. And although he, too, wants to make sure all workers are vaccinated to keep them safe, he decided against requiring it because of the labor shortage. Right now he has 80 to 100 openings.

Smaller companies see being exempt as an advantage. Like other businesses, Alan Dietrich, CEO of Crater Lake Spirits in Bend, Oregon, is facing staff shortages. He has a 36 workers, with an immediate need for two or three more.

“Being left out of the mandate is helpful for hiring,” he said. “We are still finding that a small but meaningful number of people in our area are vaccine hesitant, and staffing is so tough that even one person is significant to us.”

On the other hand, he said, the business is more susceptible to slowdowns or shutdowns due to positive tests. But a statewide mask mandate in Oregon “definitely helps keep our staff safer,” he said.

Per Biden’s order, the millions who work as employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government won’t have the option to get tested instead of taking the vaccine. The order also requires large companies to provide paid time off for vaccination.

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