On November 4, the Biden Administration announced a mandate requiring all businesses with 100 or more employees to have all workers fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by January 4, 2022. The next day, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the vaccine mandate pending further review.
However, the White House says businesses should move forward with the requirements despite the court-ordered pause. “People should not wait,” says Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Deputy Press Secretary. “They should continue to move forward and make sure they’re getting their workplace vaccinated.”
The requirement, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) applies to nearly 84 million workers, many of whom work in the food industry.
Joel S. Chappelle, a food industry attorney with the Food Industry Counsel, says he doesn’t see the mandate as having too significant an impact on food workers. “To begin with, many food workers are already vaccinated,” he told Food Quality & Safety. “Tyson Foods, for example, reports that more than 95% of its workers are already vaccinated. More broadly, 70% of American adults are now vaccinated.”
Beyond that, announcing a vaccine mandate will prove much easier than enforcing it, he adds. “The unfortunate politicization of the vaccine and the myriad lawsuits seeking to block the rule will further impede widespread compliance,” Chappelle says. “Moreover, ongoing labor shortages, employee turnover, and the manifest difficulties of achieving compliance—for employers and regulators alike—will further reduce the impact of the rule.”
While there’s been some push back, many expect the terms of collective bargaining agreements to likely cause some issues related to the costs associated with COVID-19 testing and how employees who refuse to comply will be penalized.
For instance, several supermarkets have gone to court to fight the mandate. Additionally, both FMI-The Food Industry Association and the National Grocers Association have gone on record saying the Biden administration’s mandate is ill-timed, and will impact the food supply chain.
Meanwhile, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union is pushing for even stricter mandates to ensure that workers are safe. The organization considers the mandate a good first step. “America’s frontline food and retail workers have faced extreme health risks throughout the pandemic. [The] action from the Biden Administration, while not going far enough, is a critical first step to keep workers safe on the job as COVID-19 dangers continue,” said Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International, in a statement.
Many restaurants believe that the vaccine requirements will cause even more labor shortages than they are already experiencing, according to a survey of restaurant employees conducted by Black Box Intelligence, which revealed that 59% of restaurant operators expect some staff members to quit rather than comply with the mandate.
Still, while the White House is determined to keep the vaccine mandate in place and get as many people as possible vaccinated, achieving success will depend on how that success is defined.
“I don’t think anyone reasonably believes it will be possible to effectuate 100% compliance,” says Chappelle. “A reasonable measure of success, in my view, would be achieving an epidemiologically significant increase in the number of vaccinated workers.”