The holiday shopping season has arrived, and retailers are supporting it by doing everything from price cuts to setting up showrooms to lure customers who stayed home last year. What the biggest of them are not doing is what the White House and many public health experts have asked them to do: demand vaccinations for their employees.
As other pro-bono industries such as airlines and hospitals move to demand vaccines, retailers are running away, citing concerns about labor shortages. And some of one of the largest workers in the country will remain unvaccinated, just as shoppers are expected to flock to stores.
At the core of retailers’ resistance is the concern that they will have enough people to work. In a tight labor market, retailers offer perks such as higher wages and better working hours to potential employees in the hope that they will have enough people to staff stores and distribution centers. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, estimates that retailers will employ up to 665,000 seasonal workers this year.
Macy’s, for example, said it plans to hire 76,000 full-time and part-time employees this season. The retailer offers referral bonuses of up to $ 500 for each friend or relative that employees hire to join. This fall, Macy’s asked company employees to be vaccinated or tested negative for Covid-19 to enter its offices. Shopkeepers, on the other hand, are a different matter.
“We have many stores that have many openings, and any ruling that we must oblige our colleagues to get vaccinated before Christmas will only exacerbate our labor shortage at a critical time for us,” Jeff Gennett said in an interview CEO of Macy’s.
The industry showed how strong it is about the issue this month when the Biden administration ordered companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or weekly tests by January 4th. Five days after the announcement, the National Retail Federation filed a lawsuit to stop the effort.
“We all agree on the premise that vaccines are good and vaccines save lives,” Stephanie Martz, NRF’s chief administrative officer, said Monday.
“But also, you can’t just say, ‘Okay, do it like that.’
This ruling is currently under judicial review, challenged by a number of lawsuits by a broad coalition of opponents, and may be referred to the Supreme Court. Administration court documents warn that blocking the rule “will likely cost tens or even hundreds of lives a day.”
Mr Jennett, who serves on the federation’s board of directors, said Macy’s “would like to see” such a procedure enacted in the first quarter, which for the industry usually begins in February. This echoes the federation, which has said it wants to move the deadline back several months.
“I support it – I just wish it was on a convenient schedule for us,” said Mr Jennett. “We need more time.”
Many health experts say staff mandates are the only way to help the country emerge from the pandemic, as rampant misinformation and politicization of the coronavirus have helped reduce vaccination rates. The vaccination rate for people 12 years and older in the United States is about 69 percent, and in some regions of the country the rate is as low as 40 percent. The average number of daily case reports has increased by more than 20 percent in the past two weeks.
“This is a pretty tricky question, no one denies it,” said Crystal Watson, senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security, of the need to vaccinate retail employees. “But we’ve also tried many other things to help people get vaccinated – and I think right now we need to be empowered to get over that barrier. ”
Nov 24, 2021 10:04 PM ET
Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, declined to comment on the federation’s lawsuit or its plans for vaccinations or testing. A Target spokeswoman said the company “began to take the necessary steps to comply with the new Covid-19 regulations for large companies as soon as details were announced.”
Representatives of several retailers on the federation council, including Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Saks, declined to comment on this article.
“I think employers are confused and ashamed of what they object to and therefore use NRF as a front,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union.
He added: “If you had the choice to go to the workplace or as a customer go to a store that said,“ All of our employees are vaccinated or tested, ”or another store that says,“ We don’t know who is vaccinated or tested, which would you choose? This is why, say, department store Acme does not want to advertise, which promotes bad public policy. “
Many employers in industries such as retail, which have introduced mandatory vaccines in corporate offices, did not require vaccines for their immediate employees, sharing concerns about recruitment problems. But these workers, including about four million in stores, are among the most vulnerable. They often interact with the public and are less likely to be vaccinated themselves. The mandates of Tyson, United Airlines, and several healthcare companies show that when faced with the prospect of losing their jobs, vaccinations are the most common choice for employees.
“We know the vaccine requirements are working,” said Kevin Muñoz, a White House spokesman. “The federal government, the nation’s largest employer, has successfully met its demand by increasing vaccinations and avoiding operational disruptions.”
Status of vaccine mandates in the United States
An increasing number of employers, universities and businesses are now imposing some form of vaccine requirement. Let’s take a closer look.
However, companies demanding the vaccine face protests or lawsuits. In some states, lawsuits have been referred to prevent this. Disney, for example, suspended a mandate for Disney World employees in Florida after employers in the state became illegal to require employees to take pictures.
Covid-19 panic and precautions have surfaced in retail stores throughout the pandemic and trapped their workers.
First, there was a gap between critical and non-essential businesses, prompting chains such as Guitar Center and Dillard’s to say they needed to stay open – and retain their employees – despite the escalating public health crisis. Workers were at the forefront of controversy over mask demands and later on the use of masks. Retail chains such as REI have been criticized for failing to inform employees about Covid cases in stores. In many states, grocery store workers have not been given priority access to vaccines.
“During the pandemic, we saw self-serving messages from employers who prioritize profitability over the health and safety of their employees,” said Mr Applebaum. “They have the misconception that it is better to take certain actions to make a profit.”
Throughout the pandemic, business has thrived for some of the largest retailers like Target and Walmart. And while they continue to face rising prices and supply chain congestion, executives recently noted that pressure on staff has eased.
“We’re very pleased with our staff ahead of the holidays,” Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, told CNBC last week. He added that the company’s retention rates were “among the highest in our history,” which he attributed to benefits and safety measures.
Retailers are betting that shoppers will be comfortable shopping in stores that already have higher traffic than in 2020, regardless of the industry’s efforts to combat new vaccination and testing requirements. And for those concerned about a lack of vaccinations, companies expanded their e-commerce last year and limited pick-up offers, although in-store purchases often result in more purchases and fewer returns.
When asked what Macy’s will tell concerned customers about shopping in stores, Gennett replied, “I would say we encourage all of our colleagues to get vaccinated and every colleague wears a mask in our stores and warehouses to protect themselves and others. … “
Last week, a number of medical groups and experts, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians, issued a statement pleading with companies to abide by Labor Department regulations.
“The hope was to give business leaders some perspective to remind them that this is not a political issue,” said Dr. Ashish Q. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who was one of the signatories. Dr. Jha said it is important for companies across all industries to follow the rule, noting that retailers have a special role to play given the nature of their employee base. He said these measures should be taken during the holiday season, not after, especially when the number of cases is expected to rise.
“Do they really want to be the best places during the holiday season and be held accountable for their employees getting sick and for their employees spreading the disease to their customers?” – said Dr. Jah.