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White House to Meet U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Retail Leaders on Vaccine Rule

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) – White House officials are meeting with influential industry trade groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable as the administration races to issue a rule to implement President Joe Biden’s plan to require private-sector workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Office of Management & Budget (OMB) is holding these virtual meetings, with some scheduled for Friday and Monday, that will also include the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Association of Manufacturers among others, according to public filings.

Other powerful groups and companies such as the HR Policy Association, a forum for the largest U.S. employers, and automaker Chrysler parent Stellantis discussed the mandate with OMB officials on Thursday.

The HR Policy Association emphasized that businesses want to be a partner to boost vaccination rates, according to Roger King, the group’s senior labor and employment counsel.

The group did express concerns that employers need clear rules on a variety of issues, including COVID-19 testing alternatives to vaccination, record-keeping and confidentiality.

King said the HR Policy Association also pressed the administration to be flexible given concerns that mandating vaccines could worsen labor shortages in some industries.

“It appears to be moving forward with warp speed,” King said.

Biden’s plan has drawn mixed reactions from companies and industry trade groups.

Several big employers such as Procter & Gamble 3M along with airlines such as American and JetBlue have imposed mandates since Biden’s announcement. Others such as IBM have said it will require all U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, regardless of how often they come into the office. Several other large U.S. employers such as Walmart, have yet to issue broad requirements.

The retail industry, which supports over 50 million U.S. jobs, wants the administration to address questions regarding vaccination verification processes and what remedial actions can be taken in situations where employees refuse vaccinations and testing, according to a letter sent by RILA to the U.S. Labor Department.

Biden on Thursday said the mandate ruling can be expected “soon.” The Labor Department on Tuesday submitted to the White House the initial text of the ruling.

The mandate will apply to businesses with 100 or more employees and will be implemented under a federal rule-making mechanism known as an emergency temporary standard. It would affect roughly 80 million workers nationwide.

Along with Biden’s order last month that requires all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, the orders cover 100 million people, or about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.

Biden’s mandate announcement in September came at a breaking-point as the country was facing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths driven by the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus due to a large swath of the population refusing free vaccinations.

The coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 Americans.

The vaccine order has already spurred pushback from many Republican governors including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has issued an executive order banning businesses in his state from requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for employees. (Reporting by Nandita Bose and Tom Hals; Additional reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio)


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