Businesses ask White House to postpone Biden Covid vaccine mandate until after the holidays


US President Joe Biden provides 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.

Nicolas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Fearing that President Joe Biden’s Covid vaccine mandate for private companies could cause a mass exodus of employees, business groups are begging 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 unions, industry lobbyists and individuals last week as the administration conducts its final mandate review, which will require businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure they are vaccinated. against Covid or tested weekly for the virus. It is estimated to cover around two-thirds of the private sector workforce.

OMB officials have scheduled several meetings for Monday and Tuesday with groups representing dentists, trucking companies, staffing companies and real estate agents, among others.

Retailers are particularly concerned that the tenure could trigger a surge in resignations that would exacerbate staffing issues in already understaffed companies, said Evan Armstrong, lobbyist at the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

“The holiday season has already been hectic, as you know, with challenges in the supply chain,” Armstrong told CNBC after meeting with the White House last Monday. “It is a difficult policy to implement. It would be even more difficult during the holiday season.”

Thirty percent of workers said they would quit their jobs rather than comply with a vaccine or test warrant, according to a KFF poll released last month. Goldman Sachs, in an analysis released in September, said the mandate could hurt the already tight job market. However, he said survey responses are often exaggerated and few people will actually stop.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration handed its final rule to the OMB on October 12, and the mandate is expected to come into effect shortly after the agency completes its review.

The National Retail Federation and the Group of Retail Leaders asked White House officials in meetings last week to give businesses 90 days to comply with the mandate delay the effective date to the end of January at the earliest, lobbyists said.

The Business Roundtable told CNBC it supports the White House’s vaccination efforts, but the administration “should allow time for employers to comply, and that includes addressing employee retention issues. , supply chain challenges and the upcoming holiday season “.

The United States Chamber of Commerce, who met the OMB on October 15, also asked the administration to postpone the implementation of the rule until after the holiday season. OMB officials declined to comment.

However, former OSHA officials, who will apply the mandate, told CNBC that companies will likely have some time to implement the rules.

Jordan Barab, OSHA’s assistant deputy under the Obama administration, said the administration would likely give companies about 10 weeks, as it did for federal contractors, until employees are fully vaccinated.

However, the compliance date could come earlier for weekly testing, he said.

“OSHA has always had provisions where its required equipment, for example, may be insufficient to suspend the application if an employer can show that it made a good faith effort to procure that equipment,” Barab said. . “They can set a relatively early date for the weekly testing, but also provide a bit more time in case supplies aren’t sufficient.”

The National Manufacturers Association, in a letter to OMB and OSHA chief James Frederick, last Monday asked the administration to exempt companies from the requirements if they had already implemented mandates. company-wide or achieve a certain level of vaccination among employees through voluntary programs. if certified by a local public health agency.

Robyn Boerstling, a leading lobbyist for the Manufacturers Group, called the federal requirements “redundant and costly” for companies that already support vaccination among their staff. Boerstling also expressed concern that companies with just over 100 employees could lose valuable people to competitors who are not covered by the mandate.

“A realistic implementation period may allow for the manpower planning required given the acute shortage of skilled workers and current supply chain challenges by supporting the need to keep manufacturing open and operational. “, wrote Boerstling in the letter to the administration last Monday.

Industry lobbyists have also raised concerns about the cost of the tests and who will cover those costs. The Retail Industry Leaders Association believes that employees who choose not to be vaccinated should pay for their weekly tests.

“If people are allowed to refuse immunizations and the employer takes on testing obligations from a cost perspective, then there is no real motivation for these employees to get the vaccine,” Armstrong said. With around 4 million retail workers unvaccinated, the costs of testing will also increase rapidly, he said.

However, Barab said OSHA 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 Biden’s vaccine tenure on jobs come after a record 4.3 million workers left their jobs in August, the highest level of turnover in 20 years. The retail industry was particularly hard hit, with 721,000 workers leaving their jobs.

Goldman Sachs says the mandate would in fact boost employment by reducing the transmission of Covid and mitigating the health risks that have held back labor market participation, encouraging many of the 5 million workers who have left the labor market. work since the pandemic to come back.

Global supply chains are also under strain amid an increase in demand for durable goods linked to the pandemic, plant closures in places like China and Vietnam, and a shortage of drivers from the pandemic. truck and skilled longshoremen on the west coast.

The White House admits there is little it can do to tackle macroeconomic issues such as rising demand and overseas factory operations. But he recently took steps to help, such as negotiating a deal to keep major West Coast ports open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We already have supply chain issues; we already have labor shortage issues,” Ed Egee, a leading lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, told CNBC after the meeting. group with OMB last Tuesday. “This mandate cannot be implemented in 2021 without having serious repercussions on the US economy.”

– CNBC’s Nate Rattner and Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.


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