The Christmas shopping season is here, and retailers are ushering it in by doing everything from cutting prices to stocking showrooms to lure back customers who stayed at home last year. What the greatest of them don’t do is one thing the White House and many public health experts have asked them to do: require their workers to be vaccinated.
As other industries with workers in public roles, such as airlines and hospitals, have moved to require vaccines, retailers have raised concerns about a labor shortage. And a portion of one of the strongest workforce in the country will remain unvaccinated, just as shoppers are expected to flock to the stores.
At the heart of retailers’ opposition is the concern about having enough people to work. In a tight labor market, retailers offer potential employees perks like higher wages and better hours in the hopes of having enough employees to run their stores and distribution centers. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest retail group, estimates retailers will hire up to 665,000 seasonal workers this year.
For example, Macy’s has announced that it will be hiring 76,000 full-time and part-time employees this season. The retailer has offered referral bonuses of up to $ 500 for each friend or relative that employees bring on their behalf. Macy’s asked company employees this fall to get vaccinated or test negative for Covid-19 to enter its offices. But shop workers are a different story.
“We have many stores that have many openings and any decision that we have to vaccinate these colleagues before Christmas will only exacerbate our labor shortage and enter a really critical time for us,” Jeff Gennette, Macy’s CEO said in an interview .
The industry showed how strong it is on the issue this month when the Biden government directed companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or weekly tests until Jan. 4. Five days after that announcement, the National Retail Federation sued efforts to cease efforts.
“We all agree with the premise that vaccines are good and vaccines save lives,” said Stephanie Martz, the chief administrative officer of the NRF, in an interview on Monday.
“But for the same reason, you can’t just say ‘OK, do it that way’.”
The order is now upheld in a lawsuit, is being challenged by a series of lawsuits by a broad coalition of opponents, and could reach the Supreme Court. Government court records warn that blocking the rule “would likely cost tens or even hundreds of lives a day”.
Mr. Gennette, who sits on the association’s board of directors, said Macy’s would “like to see” the order go into effect in the first quarter, which for the industry typically starts in February. This is also confirmed by the association, which has announced that it will postpone the deadline by several months.
“I support it – I’d just love to have it on a schedule that works for us,” said Gennette. “We need more time”
Many health experts say staff mandates are the only way to help the country weather the pandemic, as rampant misinformation and politicization of the coronavirus have helped lower vaccination rates. The vaccination rate for people 12 years and older in the United States is about 69 percent, and as low as 40 percent in some parts of the country. The average daily case reports have increased more than 20 percent in the past two weeks.
“It’s a pretty big question, nobody’s denying it,” said Crystal Watson, a senior scientist at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, of vaccinations for retail workers. “But we have also tried many other things to help people get vaccinated – and I think a mandate is now what we need to overcome that barrier. “
Nov. 24, 2021, 10:04 p.m. ET
Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, declined to comment on the association’s lawsuit or plans for vaccinations or testing. A spokeswoman for Target said the company “immediately began taking the necessary steps to meet the requirements of the new Covid-19 rules for large companies as soon as the details were announced.”
Spokespersons for several retailers on the association’s board of directors, including Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Saks, declined to comment on this article.
“I think employers are embarrassed and ashamed of what they disapprove of, so use the NRF as a cover,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
He added, “If you had a choice of going to a job or going to a store as a customer that said ‘All of our employees are vaccinated or tested’ or another store that says’ We have no idea who is vaccinated or tested ‘what would you choose? And that’s why the Acme Department Store doesn’t want, shall we say, to advertise that it promotes bad public policy. “
Many employers in industries like retail that have mandated vaccines in corporate offices have not mandated them for frontline workers because they share concerns about hiring challenges. But these workers, including some four million in stores, are among the most vulnerable. They often interact with the public and are less likely to self-vaccinate. Mandates with Tyson, United Airlines, and several healthcare companies suggest that employees are most likely to choose a vaccination in the face of the threat of job loss.
“We know the vaccine requirements are working,” said Kevin Munoz, a White House spokesman. “The federal government, the largest employer in the state, has successfully implemented its requirements in such a way that vaccinations are increased and operational disruptions are avoided.”
The state of vaccine mandates in the United States
A growing number of employers, universities and companies are now making vaccination compulsory. Here’s a closer look.
Yet companies that prescribe vaccines have faced protests or lawsuits. Litigation has been initiated in some states to prevent this from happening. Disney, for example, paused a mandate for Disney World employees in Florida after employers in the state made it illegal to require workers to be injected.
The panic and precautions related to Covid-19 have impacted retail stores throughout the pandemic and ensnared their workers.
First, there was the divide between essential and non-essential companies that led chains like Guitar Center and Dillard’s to argue that despite the worsening public health crisis, they must stay open and keep their employees. Workers have been at the forefront of disputes over mask mandates and then mask enforcement. Retail chains such as REI are criticized for failing to inform employees about Covid cases in shops. Grocers in many states were not given priority access to vaccines.
“We have seen selfish messages from employers throughout the pandemic that put profitability above the health and safety of their own employees,” said Appelbaum. “You have the misconception that it is better for profits to take certain actions.”
For some of the largest retailers like Target and Walmart, business boomed during the pandemic. And while still facing rising prices and stress on the supply chain, executives recently indicated that the pressure on employees has eased.
“We feel really good about the holiday season with our staffing levels,” Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, told CNBC last week. He added that the company’s retention numbers were “some of the strongest in our history,” which he attributed to perks and safety measures.
Retailers are betting that consumers can shop conveniently in stores where pedestrian traffic is already higher than it was in 2020, regardless of industry efforts to combat the new vaccination and testing requirements. And for those worried about missing vaccinations, last year companies stepped up their e-commerce activities and roadside pick-ups, even though in-store shopping often translates into more purchases and fewer returns.
When asked what Macy’s would say to concerned customers about shopping in stores, Mr. Gennette said, “What I would say is that we encourage each of our colleagues to get vaccinated and every colleague in our stores and warehouses wears a mask to protect yourself and others. “.”
Last week, a number of health groups and experts, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians, issued a statement urging companies to continue with the Department of Labor’s rules.
“The hope was to give business leaders a perspective to remind them that this is not a political issue,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, who was one of the signatories. Dr. Jha said it was important for companies in all industries to follow the rule, noting that retailers play a special role given the nature of their workforce. He said these measures should be taken during the holiday season, not after, when the number of cases is expected to rise.
“Do you really want to be a super spreader during the holiday season and be responsible for ensuring that your employees get sick and that your employees pass this on to the customers?” Yeh.