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Walmart's and Disney's Covid vaccine mandates are just good business

Conservatives don’t want government vaccine mandates. So these moves should make them happy.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, a segment of conservatives in this country have been sure that government overreach, not the virus, was the real enemy. I’m talking about the people who railed against mask mandates from the start. The ones who screamed that closing businesses to halt the spread was worse than the coronavirus and are now busy warning against government-issued “vaccine passports.”

Hopefully, those same people are glad to learn that their laissez-faire approach to epidemiology is working. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tweeted Friday that the federal government won’t be ordering people to get vaccinated any time soon. Instead, in the absence of government regulation and bureaucratic diktats, American corporations are stepping in. And the free market has spoken clearly: Vaccination mandates are good.

The free market has spoken clearly: Vaccination mandates are good.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the U.S., with nearly 1.6 million employees nationwide. On Friday, the company’s president and CEO informed staffers in a memo that the company will “require all market, regional and divisional associates who work in multiple facilities and all campus office associates to be vaccinated by Oct. 4.”

While it’s a huge step, that doesn’t mean all million-plus blue-vested workers will be required to get their shots. Friday’s memo covers only corporate staff members, not the folks laboring in Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers. But the company is offering incentives to those employees, giving every staffer $150 to get vaccinated — and, more important for some hesitant low-wage people who’ve been reluctant to get inoculated, paid time off to recover from any side effects.

More expansive was the Walt Disney Co.’s order, which also dropped Friday. The House of Mouse is requiring all salaried and nonunion hourly employees to get vaccinated in the next 60 days. That mandate covers workers at Disney’s theme parks, ABC networks, and the various movie studios under its massive umbrella.

Disney’s and Walmart’s new policies are the latest in a string of recent edicts issued by other major companies. Google and Facebook have demanded that workers returning to offices show proof of vaccination. Netflix is requiring cast members shooting its original TV shows and movies in the U.S. to be vaccinated. And The Washington Post told staff members last week that every one of them will need to show proof of vaccination to get back into their offices.

Is relying on businesses to leverage the threat of unemployment to get people vaccinated ideal? No, absolutely not. Using potential poverty as a cudgel right when pandemic-related unemployment benefits are due to expire feels especially weird. But it’s the tool we have right now as the Food and Drug Administration works to give full approval to the various vaccines and in the face of active resistance from right-wing media figures and their audiences.

And it’s not discriminatory for employers to mandate vaccinations, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advised in both December and June. The Justice Department agreed late last month, stating that federal law doesn’t block public agencies and private businesses from requiring Covid-19 vaccinations.

So, for now, I can only hope that more companies jump on board and start requiring shots. More places where this is a default of employment mean more people who refuse vaccinations for no reason other than politics — who make up a sizable proportion of those unwilling to get their shots still — will have to change their tune. At the top of my wish list for the next company to mandate shots: the NFL, an unfortunate number of whose players refuse to say whether they’ve been vaccinated.

All in all, I’m not seeing a downside for these corporate mandates. If anything, this is different from the “woke capitalism” Republicans were briefly yelling about. Rather than wanting to appear like they care about Black or LGBTQ rights, major companies are even more cynically protecting their bottom lines. If that requires that their laborers be protected against disease so they can keep showing up and selling their time and bodies for profit, so be it.

After all, isn’t that exactly what conservatives and right-wing economists have been hoping for — a chance for American businesses to get back to normal? Well, here you go, friends. Enjoy.