The CEOs and other top executives from some of America’s biggest companies, including Microsoft, Disney and Walgreens, are set to meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the administration’s vaccination mandate.
Since Biden's announcement last Thursday that all companies with 100 or more employees must require all workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid-19 testing, the overall response has been positive and “broad-based,” according to a White House official. Meeting with business leaders and CEOs who have instituted vaccine requirements already or who are in the process of doing so gives the president a valuable opportunity to consolidate and demonstrate private-sector support for his mandate — a mandate many economists, market analysts and labor experts say will prove critical to getting the country back on solid financial footing.
"The mandate is actually good for business. The return of delta has caused the recovery to stall. If we get rid of delta, we get the recovery back."
“The mandate is actually good for business. The return of delta has caused the recovery to stall. If we get rid of delta, we get the recovery back,” said Justin Wolfers, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan.
A resurgent coronavirus has constrained consumer activity across numerous service sectors, and is keeping workers from rejoining the labor force.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs estimated that an additional 12 million people will get vaccinated as a result of Biden’s vaccine mandate, which will improve labor demand and labor force participation.
“There are many CEOs out there who want to have a vaccine mandate, and, in fact, we already have a bunch of companies that have done so,” said Eric Diton, president and managing director at The Wealth Alliance. “The problem is that the labor market is very tight, so there are a lot of CEOs that are scared to implement a vaccine mandate with the fear that they'll lose valuable employees. This levels the playing field."
AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at the jobs platform Indeed, agreed that the White House’s mandate is good news for corporate leaders — and their companies’ bottom lines. “For businesses that implemented this before the government order, they’re probably breathing a little easier now,” she said.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean at the Yale School of Management and CEO of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, said there is widespread support among CEOs for a mandate — support that spans across political ideologies and party lines. “These folks don’t agree on everything, [but] on this issue, it's across the board,” he said. “They are so happy this administration has drawn this strong line in the sand.”
A list of meeting attendees provided by the White House illustrated this, with numerous industries and sectors represented.
“As health care leaders, implementing a vaccine mandate is one of the most important steps we can take to protect our children and communities from the continued spread of COVID-19,” Madeline Bell, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the executives attending the meeting, said in a statement. The hospital announced a vaccine mandate in July, and currently has an employee vaccination rate of nearly 90 percent.
A White House official said other participants would include Greg Adams, chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente; Roz Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance; Tim Boyle, president and CEO of Columbia Sportswear; Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company; Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, and Molly Moon Neitzel, founder and CEO of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream.
The official said other confirmed attendees included William Tate IV, president of Louisiana State University, and Josh Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable.
Sonnenfeld said he expected much of the meeting to focus on rulemaking protocols and technical questions so companies can carry out the mandate efficiently and effectively. “They’re anxious to make sure OSHA is properly staffed and have the guidelines for implementation,” he said.
According to the White House, early adopters of mandates have demonstrated that the strategy is highly effective at increasing vaccine uptake. In less than a month after Tyson Foods required that workers be vaccinated, the percentage of vaccinated employees shot up to 72 percent, from 45 percent. The rate of increase was similar at United Airlines, where vaccination levels jumped from 59 percent to 79 percent less than a month after the carrier announced its vaccination requirement.
While corporate chiefs have recently become more vocal in their support of topics like racial equity and voting rights, they have sometimes struggled to get traction on other hot-button issues, such as the recent law in Texas that effectively undercuts a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
“CEOs are really interested in coming out and making statements on things that are easy to communicate,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the human resources practice at Gartner.
Vaccines and vaccine mandates are more complex, Kropp said. “This question is a little more nuanced around vaccines. … It’s hard to put it on a bumper sticker.”
As a result, telegraphing a collective show of support is crucial, Wolfers said. “You don't want to be the CEO out on a ledge, potentially creating a PR disaster, but if everyone in your industry is doing the same thing. you're not on the ledge. It’s depoliticized the issue,” he said.
With economic momentum slowing and threatening to stall completely, the prospect of another winter of shutdowns and outbreaks keeping businesses closed and customers away was a top preoccupation for CEOs. “It's a concern as we’re heading into the colder months of the year,” Konkel said.
“This delta variant is a game changer. It really changed the rules. We can see in the economic numbers … we’re starting to see the economy cool off, and it's because people are slowing spending again,” Diton said.
“This mandate is going to get a lot more people vaccinated, [and] the more vaccinations, the less the delta variant is affecting the economy and affecting economic output,” he said.