- A majority of employees are in favor of vaccine mandates at their jobs to stave off the spread of COVID-19, but differing views between inoculated and unvaccinated workers are causing tension in the workplace, according to a new report.
- Research by Seattle-based Qualtrics, a provider of management software, found that a majority of American employees support vaccine mandates, whether from their own firm or the government, and 59% of employees supported their current employer implementing vaccine mandates, regardless of the size of the company.
- Seventy-five percent of unvaccinated workers say they are considering leaving their job when mandates go into effect, but at the same time, given the current labor shortage, the majority of them aren't worried about getting fired if they refuse the shot. Meanwhile, 64% of vaccinated workers and 49% of unvaccinated employees said vaccine requirements, or the discussion of them, have caused contention at their job.
The results of the survey, which polled 1,309 randomly selected workers in different industries throughout the United States, could be particularly worrisome for businesses in the construction industry.
Vaccination rates for construction workers have consistently tracked below 60% since July, according to Silver Spring, Maryland-based CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training, a construction safety research group. That's far below the vaccination rate the group tracks for all other occupations, which has crossed 80%.
Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said that trend poses two additional challenges for construction companies.
"First, it means there is a much greater risk among those workers for severe illness from COVID-19," Simonson said. "Second, depending on what happens with the various vaccine mandates, it adds to the difficulty that construction firms will have fielding a full, healthy and eligible workforce."
Construction businesses have already voiced concerns about workers jumping to smaller companies in the face of a federal vaccine mandate for workers at companies with more than 100 employees. At Rochester, Minnesota-based commercial contractor Benike Construction, which has more than 100 employees, cousins Aaron and Mike Benike have had to let some veteran workers with hard-to-find skills in today's labor market leave, because they refused to get the shot.
The result was "a lot of uncomfortable conversations," according to the Post-Bulletin newspaper. "We did lose some team members," Aaron told the paper. "Some good people."
Chris Malicki, safety risk advisor at San Diego-based risk management and insurance brokerage Cavignac, said the tensions created by the rift over vaccine mandates in the construction industry are real.
"The entire workforce is anxious," Malicki said. "The uncertainty is creating headaches and concerns among both employers and employees."
While that mandate and others, including one aimed at all federal contractors, are currently being challenged in court, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to block a New York State vaccine mandate for health workers. Ultimately, legal experts expect the outstanding challenges to vaccine mandates for other workers to end up before the nation's highest court as well.
But whether the mandates are upheld or not, others say given the nature of the job market in construction right now, unvaccinated workers often have the upper hand over employers who are struggling to satisfy both camps.
"Construction workers aren't stupid. They know that there is a shortage of skilled construction labor and they can get away with or without being vaccinated depending on their personal choice, which is what has been happening," said Josh Thompson, founder and CEO of New York-based Thompson Exterior Services, which provides high-rise maintenance and inspection services.
Even if unvaccinated construction workers are forced to choose between working and getting the jab, Thompson said the choice is a simple one for them.
"Those who are opposed to the vaccination for one reason or another are going to be drawn to the jobsites that do not require you to have it," Thompson said. "The industry has exponentially more construction projects than workers."
Simonson says that fact gives workers — vaccinated or not — plenty of options.
"The recent data on the very low unemployment rate and large number of job openings in construction indicates it's pretty easy for anybody who wants to work in construction to find another job," Simonson said. "Either in construction, or outside of construction."
Editor's note: This article was updated to include comments from Malicki.