By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden met Wednesday with the CEOs of Walt Disney and Columbia Sportswear, and other business executives and leaders, to discuss his recently announced vaccine requirement for companies that employ at least 100 people.
The White House meeting comes less than a week after Biden said that the Labor Department is working to require businesses with 100 or more employees to order those workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or show a negative test result at least weekly.
Some 80 million workers would be subject to the requirement, Biden said. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to issue an emergency rule to implement the requirement in the coming weeks.
Biden said it would “take a little while” for the agency to put the new requirement “on the wall” alongside other health and safety policies, but noted that employer moves toward mandates are already moving to improve the nation’s laggard vaccination rate. His administration hopes that the announcement of the rule-making will jumpstart the business community’s embrace of vaccinate-or-test requirements even before the OSHA rule is implemented.
Biden noted that Fox News, many of whose hosts have sharply criticized his policy, has required its employees to report their vaccination status and is moving to require testing for its unvaccinated staffers.
Just over half, or 54%, of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden announced the new requirements and several other steps last Thursday as part of a tougher effort by the administration to curb the surging delta variant of the coronavirus, which is responsible for surge in U.S. infections, hospitalizations and deaths. He also sharply criticized the tens of millions of people who remain unvaccinated, despite the fact that the shots are free of charge and widely available.
“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said.
The business leaders and CEOs Biden met with at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex, either have put in place vaccine requirements or are working to implement such rules, the White House said.
Some business groups, including the Business Roundtable, welcomed the president’s announcement, while some Republicans accused Biden of overstepping his authority and have threatened to sue the administration over the vaccine mandate.
Numerous corporations, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Walt Disney issued vaccine mandates for their workforces before Biden’s announcement last week.
Also scheduled to attend Biden’s meeting were representatives from health insurer Kaiser Permanente, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream and Louisiana State University.
Josh Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable, was also scheduled to attend. The Roundtable represents more than 200 businesses that employ some 20 million people. Last week it issued a statement welcoming Biden’s announcement.
“America’s business leaders know how critical vaccination and testing are in defeating the pandemic,” Bolten said in a statement.