Starbucks Says No to Vaccine Mandate

Some companies are reversing their vaccination policies, while others are not budging.

January 21, 2022

Starbucks Employee with a Mask

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Starbucks is no longer enforcing a mandatory vaccine policy after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine-or-test emergency temporary standard (ETS) for private employers with 100 or more workers.

The Associated Press reports that a Starbucks memo sent to employees says the coffee giant will “respect the court’s ruling and will comply.”

Starbucks employees over 200,000 workers across 9,000 U.S. locations.

Starbucks is the latest among high profile companies reversing their mandatory vaccine mandates. General Electric Co. also suspended its vaccine mandate last week, while Amtrak, Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing suspended their policies in December prior to the high court’s final ruling.

Other companies have kept their mandates in place. Citigroup announced in October that employees needed to be vaccinated or receive an accommodation by January 14. Citi has said that 99% of its employees have complied so far.

Workwear apparel maker Carhartt also stuck with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate after the ruling and is receiving backlash, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some people are boycotting the brand, while others commended the company for trying to keep employees safe on the job. The company, which employs more than 5,500 people globally, said most of its workforce is vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Carhartt fully understands and respects the varying opinions on this topic, and we are aware some of our associates do not support this policy. However, we stand behind our decision because we believe vaccines are necessary to protect our workforce,” the company said.

Large companies such as McDonald’s and Target have not mentioned vaccination plans for their employees. The labor shortage has made companies hesitant to enforce a mandate out of fear that employees would leave and work elsewhere.

In November 2021 when OSHA released the ETS for private employers with 100 or more workers, various groups filed legal challenges to it in every circuit court in the United States. The first court to act was the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a nationwide stay of the ETS, deciding that those challenging the rule were likely to prevail on the merits of the overall challenge.

NACS was an active participant in that case. Then in December, the various challenges were consolidated into one circuit, drawn at random as is the federal judiciary’s standard procedure in such cases. After being chosen, a three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to dissolve the existing stay of the rule.  It is that decision that the applicants, including NACS, were challenging at the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, trucking companies are sounding the alarm about U.S. and Canadian rules that bar unvaccinated travelers, including truck drivers, from crossing the border, CNBC reports. Supply chains are snarled on both sides of the border, and trucking groups fear the vaccine mandates will exacerbate an already-untenable situation.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, told CNBC that the Arlington, Virginia-based trade group is "very concerned” about the U.S. requirements, which were announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in October and take effect this month.

“Canada is our largest trading partner, so any disruption at the border will certainly have consequences for the U.S. economy whether it is the auto sector and other manufacturing agricultural products or consumer goods,” Costello said.

Under the DHS rule, “all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land or ferry POEs—whether for essential or non-essential reasons—be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination. This approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students, and healthcare workers to get vaccinated,” DHS said.

Brian Hitchcock, owner of MBH Trucking LLC and interim executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association, notes that many truck drivers aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19.

“How do you force a mandate on a bunch of truck drivers who have been out there on the front line for 20 months and never asked for anything?” he told CNBC. “They were the ones that kept our economy moving and supplies [going], so you never ran out of food.”