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72% of unvaccinated workers vow to quit if ordered to get vaccinated

<i>Lynne Sladky/AP</i><br/>A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports 72% of unvaccinated workers vow to quit if ordered to get the Covid-19 vaccination.
Lynne Sladky/AP
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports 72% of unvaccinated workers vow to quit if ordered to get the Covid-19 vaccination.

By Chris Isidore and Virginia Langmaid, CNN Business

A large number of unvaccinated workers say they’ll quit their jobs if their employers follow upcoming federal rules to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a think tank concentrating on health issues, found 37% of unvaccinated workers say they will quit their jobs if forced to either get vaccinated or take weekly Covid tests. And if their employer mandates vaccines and doesn’t offer the testing option, 72% of the unvaccinated workers say they will quit.

The Biden administration is drafting workplace safety rules that will require all businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate the vaccines for their employees or frequently test workers. That large employer rule would apply to about 80 million US workers, or two-thirds of all workers nationwide.

If the surveyed unvaccinated workers follow through on their threats to quit, it would lead to somewhere between 5% to 9% of workers leaving their jobs, depending upon what rules they face.

But the survey results come with a big caveat: Many unvaccinated workers who say they would quit may not follow through on that threat.

“What people say in a survey, and what they would do when faced with loss of a job can be two different things,” noted Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at KFF, in an interview earlier this month ahead of the latest survey.

Several major employers, including United Airlines and Tyson Foods, that have imposed vaccine mandates report nearly all their workers have complied with the rules.

Although 24% of adults in the survey said they knew someone who left their job over a vaccine mandate, only 5% of unvaccinated adults said they had actually quit over an employer vaccine mandate. Those who say they have quit represent 1% of US adults.

The survey, published in the October 2021 Vaccine Monitor Report, was conducted between October 14 to October 24 using phone interviews with more than 1,500 American adults.

Potentially bad news for the job market

The job market is especially difficult for employers to find and retain workers, with a near record number of job openings outnumbering the number of people looking for work, and people quitting jobs at a record pace, according to Labor Department data.

Losing employees who don’t want to be vaccinated or tested in a tight job market is one reason many employers were reluctant to imposed a mandate earlier this year. And it’s the reason many business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, have voiced support for the federal regulations, since there was less chance of losing workers if other businesses have to follow the same rules.

Still. in recent weeks, a number of other business groups have voiced concerns that the mandates could add to the nation’s already struggling supply chain problems if unvaccinated workers start leaving their jobs. And a number of police and fire departments around the nation with vaccine mandates about to go into effect could soon face staffing shortages because of the large numbers of unvaccinated people among their ranks.

The opposition to any kind of Covid rules among the unvaccinated isn’t a major surprise said Hamel earlier this month.

She said while earlier in the year many of the unvaccinated had not been able to arrange to get a shot or had been putting it off. But the survey found that 72% of adults now have gotten at least the first of two vaccine shots. So today, with vaccines easily available, the remaining unvaccinated workers have a strongly held belief that vaccines are a bad idea.

“Those unvaccinated workers are the strongest hold outs,” she said.

Mandates and compliance

Employer vaccine mandates are becoming more common, even ahead of the new rules going into effect. The survey found 25% of workers now say their employer has required them to get the Covid-19 vaccine, nearly triple the 9% who faced mandates in a June survey.

Some employers, including government contractors and most health care workers, will be required to mandate vaccines without a testing option for their workers, to comply with federal rules. Federal employees will also be required to get vaccinated.

Some other employers may require vaccines without offering the testing option, especially those who believe it is too difficult or expensive to coordinate a widespread testing program.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, an advocate of vaccine mandates, argues it would be disruptive to airline operations and its passengers if it was conducting regular testing. He warns that airlines that allow for a testing option could have thousands of employees who test positive or don’t get their weekly test to be unable to report to work. He said could lead to flight cancellations and service problems.

United has also argued in court that vaccinated workers are strongly opposed to working aside unvaccinated workers due to the health risk they pose.

Almost all United employees have complied with the mandate, with about only 3% of the airline’s 67,000 US employees having either applied for religious or medical exemptions or facing termination.

Tyson Foods also recently announced that 96% of its 120,000 US workers had complied with its vaccine mandate, with 60,000 of the workers getting the shots since the mandate was announced in August.

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