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4 Reasons the Retail Industry Isn’t Thrilled About Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement

Today, the Biden Administration issued a new vaccine requirement for private companies, in an effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic and get the country back to normal. But leaders from national retail and footwear organizations aren’t loving it.

Under this mandate, employers with 100 or more employees are required to have their staff get vaccinated by a Jan. 4 deadline. Those who opt out of the vaccine have to wear masks starting Dec. 5 and start providing negative COVID-19 tests after Jan. 4. It is estimated the rule will impact over 80 million Americans in the private sector workforce. It now lives in the form of an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), an acceleration measure from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told FN today that his team has been anticipating this move by President Biden and is working to advise its member base, which includes 95% of the shoe industry, including brands and retailers of various sizes, in all parts of the country.

“It’s 2021, and there’s a lot of unprecedented territory,” said Priest. “We’re doing our best to help companies understand the requirements and navigate them in a challenging environment.”

The National Retail Federation had stronger words regarding the mandate, calling it “burdensome” in a statement this morning.

“It is critical that the rule not cause unnecessary disruption to the economy, exacerbate the preexisting workforce shortage or saddle retailers, who are already taking considerable steps to keep their employees and customers safe, with needless additional requirements and regulatory burdens,” wrote NRF’s SVP for government relations, David French.

Below are four reasons the shoe industry is balking at the vaccine rules:

The Timing Is Terrible

Though it’s only the first week of November, retailers and brands are in the thick of the holiday season, which in a normal year would be incredibly busy. And 2021 is no normal year. Port congestion, factory shutdowns and labor shortages have already led to slowdowns in the supply chain, and companies are struggling to keep up with the consumer demand for goods. Many have taken the expensive step of air freighting product to ensure it arrives in time for holiday shoppers.

“It’s the busiest time of year for the retail industry, so to tack on these vaccine requirements, as well as the additional testing protocols, is going to be challenging for a variety of companies,” said Priest.

They Need Workers

The country is in one of its tightest hiring markets in recent history, and competition for workers has been heating up throughout the year. Walmart, Amazon, Macy’s and Kohl’s are among the many retailers offering a slew of benefits and competitive wages for new employees, as they seek to meet holiday hiring targets amid a worker shortage.

FDRA’s Priest cautioned that the new vaccine regulation could further complicate the hiring process for companies, particularly for those with retail stores. He noted that while the new rules do exempt remote workers from the need to undergo vaccination and regular testing, there is no exemption for the “hundreds of thousands of employees in the industry who are consumer-facing.”

Further complicating the labor situation — the ETS requires employers to provide paid time to workers to get vaccinated and to allow for paid leave to recover from any side effects.

Who Pays for It

Another deterrent for workers is the cost of the mandate. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit workplace safety group, pointed out that the new rule does not require employers to pay for face masks or the cost of testing for workers who choose not to get vaccinated.

“Pushing these costs onto workers is wrong-headed and an unprecedented departure from all previous OSHA standards,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH, in a statement today.

Even More Uncertainty

Under the new mandate, private companies have until Jan. 4 to meet the vaccine requirement and begin regular testing, but Priest said the rules will almost certainly be challenged in the courts. “Then what does that do to the deadline?” he asked. “We’ll be working to understand the timeframe and watching to see if the Supreme Court takes it up.”

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