As America contends with a surge in COVID cases thanks to the Delta variant, businesses are suddenly getting tougher with their vaccination policies. On the latest Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and guest co-host Stephanie Ruhle discuss the evolving corporate response to the virus.
Kara Swisher: Hi everyone. This is Pivot from New York Magazine and the Vox Media Podcast Network. I’m Kara Swisher. Scott Galloway is out the entire month of August. Today I’m joined by our very good friend, NBC News senior business correspondent and MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle. Welcome, Stephanie.
Stephanie Ruhle: Thank you so much. Good to be here. And Scott — a month off? Are you kidding me?
Swisher: He thinks he’s European or something like that. I’m not sure what’s going on.
Ruhle: He’s Floridian. That’s far from Europe.
Swisher: You were my first choice, obviously, because we’re such a hit together and I’m trying to find new partners in case something happens with Scott, which, as you know, could at any moment. So I like to be prepared and see who I get along with and who I spark with, and obviously —
Ruhle: Wait, do you think we get along?
Swisher: Yeah, I do. I do. I think we get along really well.
Ruhle: It’s because I just agree with you.
Swisher: No you don’t, no you don’t.
All right. Time for the big story. The newest trend in corporate America is vaccine mandates. Walmart, Disney, Facebook, Google are requiring some or all of their employees to be vaccinated to come to work. Walmart and Disney are two of the country’s largest private employers. Here’s a list of companies that are requiring vaccines: Netflix, Saks Fifth Avenue, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, Delta, and United Airlines for new employees only … Morgan Stanley, the Washington Post, which was a surprise to me. Lyft, Uber, Twitter. What do you think? It’s not just employees — restaurants and Broadway shows are starting to require ticket holders to show proof of vaccination. Will this work or produce a backlash, Stephanie?
Ruhle: Who cares if it produces a backlash? They damn well should. Right? In France, every day we could turn on the TV and say, look at the protesters. What are there, a thousand protesters, 10,000 protestors? The first week Emmanuel Macron put the requirement in place, almost 4 million people in France got vaccinated. It works. And I guess I’m angry because for all the noise corporate America gives us about wanting to do the right thing and being leaders for social justice and writing letters for voting rights, here’s something they absolutely can do to protect our country, to protect their employees, to also pay back the government who just bailed out businesses big and small to the tune of trillions of dollars. And now do your part. Businesses have that giant carrot. You’re always going to have anti-vaxxers, right? But in the middle are all of these people, and especially youngish people who are like, “I’m healthy. I don’t really need it.”
But if you say to that person ‘Great, well — you can’t go to work, can’t go to a bar, can’t go to the gym, and can’t go to your favorite sporting event,’ they’re going to run out and get vaccinated. And I think it’s super-selfish and shortsighted that businesses … Remember when we first got the vaccines, we kept hearing that people who are fully vaccinated will be able to go to this store without a mask on. When was the last time anyone asked you your vaccination status when you walked in a store? When I’m in a store and I see people with masks on, they don’t seem to be people who aren’t vaccinated. More likely, they’re people who are being extra cautious.
This will be the next big wave of people getting vaccinated. And I think when the vaccines go from emergency approval to full approval, you’ll see a lot more businesses do it.
Swisher: Incentives have been tried. Monetary rewards, event tickets, time off. I just talked to the head of American — they were doing things like that, an extra vacation day for current employees. So what would be your argument that you should make them? I was like, “I don’t think I’ll fly American Airlines if I don’t know if all your people are vaccinated. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think I will.”
Ruhle: I just think this argument that you can’t make people — I don’t know. I don’t like shots either, but when I walked my 5-year-old to show up for kindergarten on the first day, if he wasn’t vaccinated, my other choice was to homeschool. So we, of course, yes, boom, I’m going to get my kids vaccinated. So all of this is just crazy. Businesses are being shortsighted. They’re saying, “I don’t want to make this hard decision. I don’t want to face the backlash. I don’t want to lose customers.” Well, guess what? If we don’t do something significant, we’re never getting rid of COVID. If you want to actually have your business flourish, long term, require it.
Pivot is produced by Camila Salazar.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.