Capitalism alone will not deliver collective immunity
NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) – Take the photo or stay away: this is what U.S. companies from United Airlines to BlackRock are telling employees as Covid-19 continues to rage. This helps bring the population closer to collective immunity while reducing deaths. But there aren’t enough of these companies to fill the void left by the government.
Morgan Stanley, Salesforce.com and Microsoft are on the growing list of companies giving non-remote workers an ultimatum on jabs. But these edicts are low risk on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, where most staff are already vaccinated. Admitting unvaccinated coworkers might cause more walkouts than requiring shots for everyone.
It takes a brave chief executive to rule the law outside of these highly paid, vaccine-friendly spaces. Most did not. Walmart and Walgreens Boots Alliance require vaccines for staff who work in US offices but not in stores. Delta Air Lines requires snapshots for new U.S. employees, but not for existing employees. Even partial diktats are problematic in areas where low immunization rates coincide with a labor shortage.
Some still test the limits. Meat processor Tyson Foods is demanding that staff get vaccinated by November 1 and give them $ 200 for their time. Those who still refuse – and cannot claim a valid exemption – will have to find a new employer. United issued a similar ultimatum on Friday, although more than 80% of its flight attendants and 90% of pilots are already vaccinated.
Government decrees would make things simple but are unlikely. New York City wants proof of being stung to enter restaurants or theaters, just like France; Britain and the United States as a whole do not. Saudi Arabia has made all workplaces exclusively vaccinated areas, but its autocratic system means it can. General terms are unlikely to become the norm elsewhere.
The resulting lack of leadership is hurting those already bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Half of unvaccinated Americans have family incomes of less than $ 50,000, according to a Census Bureau survey. And Covid-19 death rates are highest in industries where vacancies have increased, such as food, agriculture, transportation and logistics, University of California San Francisco study finds in January.
The danger is that the industries most in need of vaccination mandates will be those where employers have the least influence over workers. To conquer Covid-19, it is governments, not CEOs, who must take the lead.
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– United Airlines said on August 6 that all its U.S. employees must be vaccinated against Covid-19 by October 25, or within five weeks of obtaining full regulatory approval for the vaccines if that is earlier.
– Employees who get vaccinated before September 20 and those who have already received their vaccines will receive an extra day’s pay, United CEO Scott Kirby and Chairman Brett Hart said in a letter to employees. United’s pilots’ union said the order required further negotiations and some of its members disagreed with the airline’s plan.
– Meat processor Tyson Foods said on Aug. 3 it would require all staff to be vaccinated by Nov. 1, adding that nearly half of the staff had already received the vaccine. The policy is the subject of ongoing discussions with local unions.
– Just under half of the US population was fully vaccinated as of August 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or 61% of adults, about the same level as in Europe.
(Edited by Swaha Pattanaik and Amanda Gomez)
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