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Around 5 percent of unvaccinated adults quit their jobs over Covid vaccine mandates, survey shows

“At small facilities with barely more than 100 employees, the departure of even one highly valued team member could lead to production challenges if not managed or planned appropriately,” said one labor advocate.
Image: People march in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandate, in New York
People gather at City Hall to protest a Covid-19 vaccine mandate in New York on Oct. 25, 2021.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters
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Five percent of unvaccinated adults say they have left a job due to a vaccine mandate, according to a survey released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This early read on whether workers will actually quit their jobs over mandates comes as more employers are requiring shots. One-quarter of workers surveyed by KFF in October said their employer has required them to get vaccinated, up from 9 percent in June and 19 percent last month.

President Joe Biden announced in September a mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure workers are vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested weekly for the virus. The mandate, which is currently still under review, is estimated to cover roughly two-thirds of the private sector workforce once it’s implemented. The Kaiser survey only asked whether people have quit over a vaccine requirement, not a vaccine requirement with a testing option.

More than one-third of unvaccinated workers said they would quit rather than comply with a vaccine or testing mandate, the Kaiser survey shows, a share that jumps to 72 percent if no testing option is offered. But because the nationwide mandate has yet to be officially implemented by the Labor Department, it remains to be seen what share of workers will quit when a broader swath of the U.S. workforce is covered.

“Right now only a quarter of workers say that their employer has required them to get a vaccine, so it’s still quite hypothetical for these workers who say they would leave their jobs,” said Lunna Lopes, a senior survey analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Still, Lopes said, the survey results offer “a sense of people’s attitudes” toward the requirements.

The National Association of Manufacturers, in a letter to the federal government last week, said that losing even a small share of workers could have significant consequences for some of its member companies.

“At small facilities with barely more than 100 employees in particular, the departure of even one highly valued team member could lead to production challenges if not managed or planned appropriately,” wrote Robyn Boerstling, a top lobbyist for the manufacturers’ group. “For larger companies, even losing 1 percent of a production team could have operational consequences given the specialized nature of a skilled manufacturing worker.”

An internal survey from the American Trucking Associations estimates that carriers subject to the mandate would lose about 74 percent of unvaccinated employees, or 37 percent of their total workforce, to retirements, resignations, or employees switching to work for smaller companies not covered by a mandate. That survey assumes, however, that the share of respondents who said they would quit will do so when the time comes, the trade group said in a letter sent last Thursday to the Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the rule for the White House.

When asked whether drivers are actually leaving the workforce already, Jeremy Kirkpatrick, the association’s director of strategic communications, said that it’s too early to tell because the rule hasn’t been made public yet.

“We’re in a wait-and-see mode right now,” Kirkpatrick wrote in an email to CNBC.

The Kaiser survey also indicates that most unvaccinated workers would not quit outright if faced with a mandate. About 6 in 10 said they would be likely to apply for a religious, medical, or other exemption if their employer required them to get a vaccine.

“There’s a lot of options that people would try to exhaust before leaving a job,” said Lopes, the KFF analyst.

Nearly 58 percent of the U.S. population overall is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including nearly 70 percent of adults.