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Restaurants grapple with vaccine mandate policies in a historically tight labor market

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To mandate or not to mandate?

That’s the question restaurant owners and operators face in one of the most challenging hiring environments in decades. The Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine on Monday, opening the door to workplaces to choose to require workers to be vaccinated. But between rising unemployment benefits, reluctance surrounding Covid, barriers to childcare and more, the industry is already facing a shortage of available workers and the addition of a vaccine mandate to the image might cut in either direction.

The big players in the industry have mostly remained silent on the vaccination mandates for restaurant staff. McDonald’s recently pushed back its return to office date to Oct. 11 and said it would require its U.S. corporate staff to be fully immunized by Sept. 27, with religious or medical exemptions allowed.

Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung told CNBC this week after FDA approval that the company was seeking employee feedback and had yet to make a decision on whether to authorize the shot, but was in “active talks” on the subject. The company has encouraged employees to get vaccinated, Hartung said, adding that he hoped the FDA approval might help those on the fence make the move to get vaccinated.

In New York City, restaurant workers are required to have at least one dose of Covid vaccination as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Key to NYC Pass program, which began this month and will be applied on September 13. Philippe Massoud, owner and head of Ilili and Ilili Box, said the tenure was not a problem for most of his staff. But he lost two, maybe three, workers who did not want to be vaccinated, and he is missing about 20 workers in total due to the labor shortage.

“Certainly that makes the situation worse,” he said of the workers leaving the mandate. “We hope they change their minds down the line.… On top of all that, you’re dealing with the surge of the delta variant, which also creates its own complexity. So we’re kinda hit all over the place. . “

In Austin, Texas, restaurateur Eric Silverstein owns The Peached Tortilla and Fat City, and said about 95% of its workforce is vaccinated. The company encouraged vaccinations, paying workers $ 30 to get vaccinated and setting it up through its human resources department, but it did not ask workers to be vaccinated.

“We had such a high turnout in getting the vaccine voluntarily, I didn’t think we had to demand it,” he said, adding that all workers wear masks in his restaurants across the country. inside.

But for those who choose not to get the vaccine, there are consequences.

“If you come down with Covid as a breakthrough case, even though you are vaccinated, we pay you for your free time so that you don’t have to come in and make other people sick. However, if you’re not vaccinated, we don’t offer that, ”he said.

The labor shortage was not factored into its decision on immunization policy, Silverstein said.

But for some, it is difficult to separate the issue of work from the issue of whether to impose vaccination on workers.

David Barr owns 44 KFC and Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop franchise stores in Alabama and Georgia. While he has concerns about the tenure from a legal perspective as a small business owner, he is also considering what such a requirement might mean for staffing.

“We decided to encourage, relative to the mandate, vaccinations,” Barr said. “Both because of the labor shortage today – we don’t want to potentially lose 20-30% of our employees – and just politically to look to DC or the house of State to know what the vaccine policy should be. “

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