US workers overwhelmingly comply with Covid vaccine mandates

The vast majority of Americans subject to workplace vaccination mandates have complied with them, confounding predictions that such requirements would worsen labour shortages by prompting unvaccinated workers to resign en masse. New York state’s mandate for healthcare workers was one of the first and strictest mandates enforced to date — it included no option for unvaccinated workers to opt-out with regular testing. Some had predicted it would cause at least one hospital to pause elective procedures and force state governor Kathy Hochul to consider calling in the National Guard. In the end, 92 per cent of both hospital and nursing home staff were vaccinated before the deadline and no major interruptions to patient care were reported, according to the governor’s office.


The United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s powerful teachers’ union, warned that a similar mandate enforced on Monday for 150,000 staffers at city schools including school safety officers and cafeteria workers could spur unsafe conditions in public schools. It later conceded that it had not. That mandate prompted 43,000 vaccinations in about a month, according to City Hall. A similar mandate for employees of chicken processor Tyson Foods was implemented with fewer than expected terminations. Recent enforcements show that most workers choose to get vaccinated. Employers that introduced mandates saw the share of vaccinated workers climb as much as 20 percentage points to hover around 90 per cent, according to a White House report. As many as 28m Americans have been vaccinated since President Joe Biden announced a separate mandate for federal employees in late July, but many of those vaccinations could also have been driven by the Delta spike.“These requirements work,” Biden said on Thursday during a visit to Chicago, where he met leadership from United Airlines and construction firm Clayco, who have both previously announced vaccine mandates of their own.“And as the Business Roundtable and others told me when I announced the first requirement, that encouraged businesses to feel they could come in and demand the same thing of their employees,” he added. “More people are getting vaccinated. More lives are being saved.”Employers seemed encouraged by the results, as a slew of firms announced mandates in the days following the enforcements in New York, including Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and IBM.The vaccine mandates enforced in recent weeks by New York officials were widely viewed as litmus tests for new directives taking effect in the coming weeks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is writing new regulations that would force companies with 100 or more employees to check workers’ vaccination status or test them weekly. That mandate will cover an estimated 80m workers when it goes into effect.

Warnings that Kathy Hochul, governor of New York, would have to call in the National Guard to enforce mandates have not come to pass © Bloomberg

“Leaving a job can be a really costly, difficult experience,” says Julia Pollak, a labour economist for jobs site ZipRecruiter. “When push comes to shove and people really need to think about whether they are going to act on their social media vow to leave their job if they are forced to get vaccinated. People end up choosing the path of least resistance and just going and getting a shot instead of upending their entire lives.”That was the case for basketball player Andrew Wiggins, a star forward for the Golden State Warriors who had attracted criticism for sharing unproven theories about the long-term effects of the vaccine on social media.“The only options was [were] to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA,” Wiggins said. He opted for the Johnson & Johnson jab.The compliance of the vaccine-hesitant has surprised even the authors of some mandates. “The whole process was smoother and less dramatic than I expected,” said Seann Kalagher, the general counsel and chief compliance officer at Manhattanville College.

I’m pretty confident that the costs to employers won’t be that high in the end, that many people are changing their minds and will respond to incentives, whether that be carrots or sticks.

The New York-area private college was among the first to add the coronavirus jab to the list of vaccines required for enrolment and later extended the mandate to cover staff as well. Only five workers resigned.But challenges persist. New York healthcare workers and teachers have filed lawsuits over their mandates, and 24 Republican attorneys-general have already pledged to fight the forthcoming OSHA guidance. Thus far, they have not succeeded in halting enforcement. “The courts have upheld employers’ right to mandate,” says labour and employment attorney Alexander Bogdan, a partner at Fox Rothschild, citing the Supreme Court’s rejection of emergency petitions to halt the New York mandates.Many of the existing mandates have targeted populations that already had high vaccine uptakes, raising questions about whether their success can be replicated in red states. But when Chattanooga-based insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee enforced its own vaccine mandate on Wednesday, only 17 of some 900 employees chose to leave. Tennessee has a vaccination rate of only 44.6 per cent, ranking it 44th out of the 50 states.Other business leaders have yet to draft their own mandates ahead of guidance from OSHA, with economists saying that they probably fear alienating employees and job seekers in a competitive labour market. United Airlines said it received more applications for its flight attendant positions after its mandate went into effect.“I’m pretty confident that the costs to employers won’t be that high in the end, that many people are changing their minds and will respond to incentives, whether that be carrots or sticks,” Pollak said.

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