Iowa Business Groups Seeking Answers, Express Concerns about Biden Vaccine Mandate

September 10, 2021

By Michael Crumb, Business Record

The Iowa Business Council is closely monitoring and reviewing President Joe Biden’s announcement that he plans to issue a vaccine mandate for all companies with more than 100 employees, the group’s executive director said today.

Another statewide business group, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, released a statement calling Biden’s plan "misguided."

Biden announced Thursday his plan to require all companies with more than 100 employees to have all their employees vaccinated against the coronavirus, or face weekly testing.

The announcement comes as coronavirus cases continue to rise with the surge of the Delta variant. According to the New York Times, Iowa’s seven-day average of confirmed cases has topped 1,250, with a national weekly average of nearly 148,000 cases. About 54% of eligible people are fully vaccinated nationwide. In Iowa, just over 52% are fully vaccinated.

Joe Murphy said all of the Iowa Business Council’s members would fall under the requirement because they all have more than 100 employees. The organization is made up of the chief decision-makers of Iowa's 22 largest companies.

"So the question for us is really how is this going to be implemented, what are the rules and what are the regulations," Murphy said. "For us, the question is what do those rules look like. All of that on the vaccine side is a question."

There are also questions about the weekly testing that would be required for employees who don’t want to get a vaccine, Murphy said.

"What’s the integrity within the testing?" he said. "Are there certain tests allowed and not allowed? What is the timing? Who verifies it? Who do you submit it to? There are a number of questions that businesses will be very earnest to see what the answers are to those questions, so that’s really where we’re at right now."

Murphy said there are also concerns that the vaccine mandate could negatively affect the workforce at a time when the state faces a labor shortage.

"We know through surveys and anecdotal information there is a segment of the population that will not get vaccinated, and that is concerning," he said. "We are encouraging everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to get vaccinated immediately, but we know there’s a segment of the population that will refuse and that’s disappointing. But that then also has an impact on a business's ability to produce their goods and services, and that’s the main concern we have to wade through at this point."

Murphy said Business Council members have been pushing their employees to get vaccinated since vaccines became available last spring.

"That’s really been the key focus of our members over the last eight or nine months," he said. "Our role is to ensure the wellness and safety of our employees and our customers and clients, and that starts with the vaccine. Not only have our members offered incentives for their employees to get vaccines, but they’ve brought on on-site vaccination clinics and given paid time-off for their employees to get vaccinated. We have been consistently strong in our messaging that the vaccine is the only way out of this, we need to step up our efforts. As a result our percentage of vaccinated individuals, I think, is quite high among our companies."

Murphy did not have specific numbers as to vaccination rates among Business Council member employees.

Biden’s order places a $14,000 fine per person who is not vaccinated, but Murphy said the repercussions for failure to comply with testing aren’t clear, and business leaders are trying to determine what that looks like.

"Those are questions that need to be answered," he said. "There are a lot of things that go into a sweeping and broad mandate such as this. It’s important to get the details right and to communicate what the expectations are. At the end of the day, companies want to do what’s right, and protecting the health and welfare of their employees is at the top of that list."

In its statement, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said, the policy proposal "fails to recognize what is understood in Iowa, that any mandate in the workplace inhibits an employer’s ability to manage the end of COVID-19, keep the economy running and the nation fed."

The group, with 1,500 members representing 330,000 employees, is the state’s largest employer association, and remains committed to ending the pandemic, the statement read.

It cited actions taken in the early days of the pandemic, such as changing production lines to make personal protective equipment, parts for respirators and masks and face shields that were donated to front-line healthcare workers as examples of its efforts to fight the virus.

In its statement, ABI officials said their members found ways to keep their doors open while taking care of their workforce, ensuring production continued and keeping supply chains moving.

They said leadership of Iowa’s policymakers supported those efforts.

"These same policymakers also recognized that mandates on businesses from policymakers were counterproductive as business owners, those closest to the workplaces, can best navigate the correct COVID-19 response for their individual situations," the statement read. "Though considered, a call to ban an employer’s ability to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was rightly rejected for that reason."

The statement said that many ABI members instituted mask and vaccine mandates on their own.

ABI officials also said they will speak to members of Iowa’s congressional delegation to express their concerns about the mandate.

The Business Council’s Murphy said his group’s biggest concern is that the policy not be enacted in a way that will hurt a business’s ability to grow.

"Our role as the Iowa Business Council is to communicate with the administration and anyone who listens … to make sure this policy is implemented in a way that does not harm a business’s ability to expand, a business’s ability to attract and retain workers and the ability of a business to continue to move forward and emerge from the pandemic," he said.

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