Many big businesses siding against Texas in mandate fight


The fight over vaccine mandates between the White House and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is putting businesses in the middle. But many are picking the White House’s preferred policy.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which are both based in the Lone Star State, say they will defy Abbott’s order that no business in the state can impose a vaccine mandate on employees or customers and comply with President Biden’s mandate that all companies with at least 100 employees require vaccines or weekly testing for employees.

Other companies based in Texas have already imposed vaccine mandates and have given no indication they will change their positions in the wake of Abbott’s executive order.

Texas-based Dell Technologies has required vaccinations or testing since January. A few major technology companies not based in Texas do have hubs in Austin, like Google and Facebook, and already require employees be vaccinated.

Southwest downplayed any fight with the home-state governor, saying Biden’s order “superseded any state mandate or law.” The airline has ordered its thousands of employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8. 

American Airlines also said it believes a federal mandate supersedes state laws.

Witold Henisz, the Deloitte & Touche professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said the conflicting orders are a “hassle.” He also said that most big corporations favor vaccine mandates, since it makes it easier for them to do business. That will put them on the side of Biden and against Abbott, even if they avoid advertising a political stance

“The large companies — the airlines, the big retailers — they want to get to the point where it’s safe for their employees to come in. So they’re overall happy with the mandate, and this political appeal from Abbott is the last thing they wanted. It’s a hassle for them,” Henisz said.

The Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs, warned against state and local governments getting in the way of companies keeping their workers safe.

“Since the pandemic began, America’s business leaders have been focused on keeping their employees and customers safe, including requiring vaccines for some or all of their employees,” said Joshua Bolten, the group’s president and CEO and a former White House chief of staff to former President George W. Bush.

“New regulations in some states would attempt to prevent private sector companies from taking these steps,” he added.

He said the Business Roundtable “urges state and local governments to support and not impede companies’ ability to keep their workplaces safe.”

The White House has pushed back on Abbott, with Biden warning that the issue should not be politicized.

“Let’s be clear: Vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us. That’s why we continue to battle the misinformation that’s out there, and companies and communities are stepping up as well to combat this misinformation,” Biden said Thursday in remarks at the White House.

Abbott is seen by some Republicans as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, as is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has also criticized and sought to ban vaccine mandates.

The White House has sought to argue that such figures are putting politics ahead of health, which opponents of mandates have cast the White House as abridging personal freedoms and of overreach.

“[They] fit a familiar pattern that we've seen of putting politics ahead of public health,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives, that make it more difficult to save lives in — across the country or in any state?”

Abbott's office, in defending the governor's move, blamed the Biden administration for leaving people in Texas in a position to choose between being fired or getting the vaccine.

“Governor Abbott has talked to countless Texans who are worried about losing their jobs because of this federal overreach. The Biden Administration has left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID vaccine because of their religious belief, medical condition, or personal conscience," said Renae Eze, Abbott's press secretary.

"And they have left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees. The Governor’s executive order will help protect Texans from having to make that choice,” she added.

The administration’s emergency rule requiring vaccines or weekly tests is being developed by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the agency submitted the initial text of it to the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the White House has pressed companies to get ahead of the federal mandate and impose their own mandates, touting companies like United Airlines and Tyson’s Foods that have already done so.

Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former Minnesota congressman, said that Biden’s order is welcomed by many businesses and actions like Abbott’s are divisive among Republicans.

“This issue is a vivid illustration of the divide between populist Republicans and corporate Republicans. Biden is doing a lot of business a favor by making them do something a majority of their customers and employees want without taking responsibility for the decision,” he said. “Gov. Abbott is reflecting the libertarian streak in right-wing populism.”

Abbott, DeSantis and other Republican governors vowed to fight the vaccine mandate in court when it was first announced last month.

But legal experts have said Biden will be on strong footing.

“I have no idea the motives behind what the governor of Texas and other governors are doing, or even some mayors are doing, in terms of how this appeals to them politically,” said Ivan Zapien, a Democratic lobbyist and former executive director at the Hispanic Leadership Council of the Democratic National Committee. “What I do know is that businesses know what’s best for them.”

Zapien argued that companies are making decisions about COVID-19 safety regardless of politics.

“Obviously, if the governor of a state says you should do X and you end up doing Y, yeah, one of the headlines is, ‘Company X defies governor,’" he said. “I think that internally most of these companies are just making sound decisions for themselves and part of it is luck of the draw. Sometimes you’re in the same spot as government, sometimes you’re not.” 

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