Why the retail industry is fighting a vaccine mandate
The holiday shopping season has arrived, and retailers are doing everything from cutting prices to stocking showrooms to entice customers who stayed home last year. The biggest of those not working is what the White House and many public health experts have told them: mandate that their workers be vaccinated.
As other industries with workers in public-facing roles, such as airlines and hospitals, have moved toward requiring vaccines, retailers have dug in their heels, citing concerns about labor shortages. And a portion of one of the nation’s largest workforces will remain without vaccinations, just as shoppers are expected to flock to stores.
At the heart of the resistance from retailers is the concern about having enough people to operate. In a tight labor market, retailers are offering potential employees perks such as higher wages and better hours so that they have enough people in their stores and distribution centers. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, has estimated that retailers will hire 665,000 seasonal workers this year.
Macy’s, for example, said it planned to hire 76,000 full- and part-time employees this season. The retailer has offered a referral bonus of up to $500 for each friend or relative that employees recruit to join. Macy’s asked corporate employees to get vaccinated this fall or test negative for COVID-19 to enter their offices. But store employees are a different story.
“We have a lot of stores that have a lot of openings, and any decision that we have to mandate those colleagues to vaccinate before Christmas is going to exacerbate our labor shortage going into a really critical period for us, Jeff Gennett, Macy’s chief executive, said in an interview.
The industry showed how strongly it feels about the issue this month when the Biden administration directed companies with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccines or weekly tests by Jan. Five days after that announcement, the National Retail Federation sued to block the effort.
“We all agree on the premise that vaccines are good and that vaccines save lives,” NRF Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Martz said in an interview on Monday.
“But by the same token, you can’t just say, ‘Okay, make it like that.'”
The order is now in litigation, challenged by multiple lawsuits from a broad coalition of opponents, and could make its way to the Supreme Court. Court filings by the administration warned that blocking the rule “is likely to cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”
Mr Janet, who sits on the federation’s board, said Macy’s “likes to see” the order placed in the first quarter, which usually starts in February for the industry. This echoed the federation, which has said it wants to push back the deadline by several months.
“I support it – I would love to have it on a timetable that works for us,” Mr Gennett said. “We need more time.”
Many health experts say employee mandates are the only way to help the country emerge from the pandemic, as rampant misinformation and politicization of the coronavirus have helped suppress vaccination rates. The vaccination rate for people 12 years of age and older in the United States is about 69 percent, with the rate as low as 40 percent in some parts of the country. The average daily cases reported have increased by over 20 per cent in the past two weeks.
“It’s a huge question, there’s no one to deny it,” said Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University about the need for vaccinations for retail workers. ,But we’ve also tried a lot of other things to help people get vaccinated – and I think we need a mandate right now to overcome that hurdle. ,
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, declined to comment on the federation’s lawsuit or its plans for vaccination or testing. A spokesperson for Target said the company had “began taking necessary steps to meet the requirements of the new COVID-19 regulations for large companies with the announcement of the details.”
Spokespersons for several retailers on the federation’s board, including Kohl’s, Dix Sporting Goods and Saks, declined to comment for this article.
“I think employers are embarrassed and ashamed of what they’re objecting to and so use the NRF as cover,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union.
He continued: “If you had the option of going to the workplace, or going to a store as a customer saying, ‘All of our employees have been vaccinated or tested,’ Or any other store that says, ‘We don’t know who’s vaccinated or tested,’ which one would you choose? And that’s why, let’s say, the Acme department store doesn’t want to advertise that it promotes bad public policy. Used to be.”
Many employers in industries, such as retail, that have made vaccines mandatory in corporate offices do not require them for frontline workers, sharing concerns about challenges in recruitment. But those workers, including about four million at stores, are the most vulnerable. They interact frequently with the public and are less likely to be vaccinated on their own. Mandates from Tyson, United Airlines and several health care companies indicate that when faced with the prospect of losing their jobs, employees often choose to vaccinate.
“We know the vaccine requirements work,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said. “The federal government, the nation’s largest employer, has successfully implemented its requirement in a way that has encouraged vaccination and avoided any disruption to operations.”
Still, companies that mandated vaccines have faced opposition or lawsuits. Lawsuits have been passed in some states to obstruct it. For example, Disney withheld a mandate for employees at Disney World in Florida after it became illegal in the state for employers to require workers to take shots.
The panic and precautions tied to COVID-19 have struck retail outlets and trapped their employees throughout the pandemic.
First, there was the divide between essential and nonessential businesses, which prompted chains such as Guitar Center and Dillard’s to argue they needed to stay open and keep their employees inside, despite the worsening of the public health crisis. Activists have been at the forefront of controversies over the mask mandate and then mask enforcement. Retail chains like REI have been criticized for failing to inform employees about COVID cases in stores. In many states, grocery store employees were not given priority for vaccines.
“We have seen, during the pandemic, self-service messages from employers who are putting profitability above the health and safety of their own employees,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “They have a misguided idea that it is better to take some action for the sake of profits.”
Businesses have boomed for some of the biggest retailers like Target and Walmart during the pandemic. And while they still face rising prices and supply chain tensions, officials have recently indicated that the pressure on employees has eased.
“We feel really good about our staff during the holiday season,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told CNBC last week. He said the company’s retention numbers were “some of the strongest in our history,” which he attributed to perks and security measures.
Retailers are betting that consumers will find it easier to shop in stores where foot traffic is already higher than in 2020, regardless of the industry’s efforts to fight new vaccination and testing requirements. And for those who are concerned about the lack of vaccinations, companies have ramped up their e-commerce operations and curbside pickup offerings over the past year, though in-store purchases often lead to more purchases and lower returns.
Asked what Macy’s would tell relevant customers about in-store purchases, Mr Gennett said: “What I would say is that we encourage each of our associates to get vaccinated and each associate is concerned with the safety of themselves and others. wears a mask in our stores and warehouses.”
Last week, several health groups and experts, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians, put out a statement asking companies to move forward with Labor Department regulations.
Dr Ashish K Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who was one of the signatories, said, “The hope was to provide some perspective to remind business leaders that this is not a political issue. ” Dr Jha said that it is important for companies across all industries to follow the rule, noting that retailers play a special role considering the nature of their employee base. He said those measures should be implemented during the holiday season – especially not when the number of cases is expected to rise.
“Do they really want to be the superspreader place during the holiday season and be responsible for their employees getting sick and for their employees to spread it to customers?” Dr Jha said.
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