Employers have both the responsibility and the right to ensure their workplaces are as safe as possible. In this era, that means requiring that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or wear a protective mask at all times on the job if they are unwilling or medically unable to do so.
Employers have struggled with the right balance between respecting individuals' freedom of choice and the need for all employees to be safe on the job. But the "don't ask, don't tell" practices largely adopted by UAW-represented automakers — and much of American society — aren't working. The contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, mostly among the unvaccinated, and it's putting economic activity at risk along with the health of U.S. citizens.
Hyperbolic rhetoric aside, vaccine requirements for employees are not an assault on personal liberty. Work relationships are free-market exchanges — voluntary agreements to meet certain obligations in exchange for money and other benefits. If one of the parties changes the terms of the deal, the other party is free to accept the change or to reject it and part ways.
Of course, employers should be thoughtful about making new demands on workers or changing job requirements, but that doesn't mean they can ignore the reality of a deadly global health crisis. Sensitivities for those with compromised immune systems must be taken into account. The same can't be said for misinformation or political division.
The auto industry is a mammoth employer across the U.S. When COVID-19 struck, manufacturers swiftly pivoted to making medical devices and personal protective equipment that were otherwise unavailable.
The industry's leadership is required once again in this crisis, to show the way — and provide political cover — for other employers in smaller, less consequential segments of the economy.
The science is clear: The only way to end the pandemic is global vaccination.
The auto industry — from manufacturers to retailers — needs to join the growing ranks of employers, including health care providers and universities, requiring universal vaccinations to protect the health of individuals as well as the communities and workplaces in which they live.