Biden pushes mandates to leading executives
By Jim Tankersley and Zolan Kanno-Youngs
President Joe Biden met earlier this week with top executives from Microsoft, the Walt Disney Co., Kaiser Permanente and other companies that have endorsed vaccine mandates, days after he announced a federal effort to require employees of large companies to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be tested regularly.
The administration sought to use the meeting to show that vaccine mandates are good for the economy while spotlighting employers that have mandates for workers or have praised Biden’s order. The meeting was meant to rally more business support for mandates.
“It’s about saving lives — that’s what this is all about,” said Biden, who was flanked by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator.
“Vaccinations mean fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and in turn it means a stronger economy,” he added.
One of the invitees to the meeting, Tim Boyle, chief executive of Columbia Sportswear, said in an interview Wednesday that his company had drafted a policy mandating vaccines months ago. But it had held off carrying it out until Biden announced last week that he was directing the Labor Department to issue an emergency safety declaration that would effectively function as a vaccine mandate for tens of millions of workers. Columbia told its workers that it will put a vaccine requirement in place next week.
Boyle said Columbia was concerned that by acting alone it would risk losing as many as half of its workers in distribution centers and retail stores. Biden’s order, he said, reduced the risk that workers who don’t want to get vaccinated would quit to work elsewhere.
“There’s much less opportunity for people to go somewhere they don’t need to be vaccinated,” he said.
Boyle said vaccinations had divided Columbia’s workforce. Managers in its Portland, Oregon, headquarters have largely embraced the shots, he said, but retail and warehouse workers throughout the country have been more reluctant. He said that hesitancy had hurt the company, with infections and the threat of infection forcing closures and cleanings of locations.
“Those operations are predicated on people working together closely,” he said. Having unvaccinated workers is “highly disruptive.”
Several of the business leaders who met with Biden have installed mandates already, for at least part of their workforce, including Disney, Walgreens and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.