Editorial: Biden should listen to business leaders on vaccines

The Detroit News Editorial Board, The Detroit News on

Published in Op Eds

Weeks after President Joe Biden announced his decree that roughly 80 million workers would need to get the COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing, many details of that order are still unknown. Business groups are rightly pushing back against an undefined, invasive mandate that could exacerbate an already tight labor market.

After months of being told what they could and couldn't do by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan companies are seeking to normalize their operations and tackle the workforce shortages so many employers are facing.

This new federal order that would impact businesses with 100 or more employees places an unnecessary burden on employers to force workers to comply — or face stiff fines. In addition, the logistics of the mandatory testing and the costs involved remain a mystery.

This week, several chambers of commerce, led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, asked Biden to rethink his vaccine rules, and let states determine the best way to handle vaccinations.

Better yet, the government should just let the private sector figure this out for itself.

"I don't think anybody needs to be reminded of how divisive this is, and we're again going to be inserting employers right into the middle of that," said Andy Johnston of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

The group, Listen to MI Businesses Coalition, makes a good case. Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy and member engagement at the Michigan Chamber, says more business associations are signing on each day. It's similar to the Reopen Michigan Safely effort that businesses championed earlier this year to fight state orders banning a return to the office.

"We're creating an outlet for Michigan businesses to make their voices heard," Block says. "We want to be clear we aren't anti-vaccine. It is about being opposed to an unprecedented top-down mandate of this type. Not all states are the same."


Mandates in general seem to backfire. For instance, nearly all of the major airlines have instituted vaccine requirements for employees, following Biden's September announcement. And it hasn't gone well.

Delta Air Lines, on the other hand, is taking a gentler approach. It's the only U.S. carrier that has said it won't enforce a vaccine mandate. Employees seem to be responding positively. The company says more than 90% of its workforce has received the vaccine, and that percentage is expected to rise.

Biden has tasked the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Health and Safety Administration to issue rarely-used "emergency temporary standards," which sidestep the formal rule-making process and Congress. The rules are before the Office of Management and Budget, and this review could take months.

In the meantime, 24 attorneys general sent a letter to Biden, challenging what they call an unlawful mandate.

"Your plan is disastrous and counterproductive," they wrote. "From a policy perspective, this edict is unlikely to win hearts and minds — it will simply drive further skepticism. And at least some Americans will simply leave the job market instead of complying. This will further strain an already-too-tight labor market, burdening companies and (therefore) threatening the jobs of even those who have received a vaccine."

Biden's vaccine mandate goes too far by interfering in private employers' decisions, and will likely only cement more opposition to the shots. The administration should listen to these businesses' concerns and back down.

(c)2021 The Detroit News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



Ed Wexler Marshall Ramsey Kirk Walters Jack Ohman Kevin Siers Steve Breen