Why the Retail Industry Is Fighting Vaccine Mandates

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The holiday shopping season has arrived, and retailers are ringing it in by doing everything from cutting prices to stocking showrooms to lure back customers who stayed at home last year. What the biggest of them are not doing is the one thing the White House and many public health experts have asked them to: mandate that their workers be vaccinated.

As other industries with workers in public-facing roles, like airlines and hospitals, have moved toward requiring vaccines, retailers have dug in their heels, citing concerns about a labor shortage. And a portion of one of the country’s largest work forces will remain unvaccinated, just as shoppers are expected to flock to stores.

At the heart of the retailers’ resistance is a worry about having enough people to work. In a tight labor market, retailers have been offering perks like higher wages and better hours to prospective employees in hopes of having enough people to staff their stores and distribution centers. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, has estimated that retailers will hire up to 665,000 seasonal workers this year.

Macy’s, for example, said it planned to hire 76,000 full- and part-time employees this season. The retailer has offered referral bonuses of up to $500 for each friend or relative whom employees recruit to join it. Macy’s asked corporate staff this fall to be vaccinated or test negative for Covid-19 to enter its offices. But store workers are a different story.

“We have a lot of stores that have a lot of openings, and any ruling that we have to mandate those colleagues be vaccinated prior to Christmas is just going to exacerbate our labor shortage going into a really critical period for us,” Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chief executive, said in an interview.

The industry showed how strongly it feels about the issue this month when the Biden administration directed companies with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccines or weekly tests by Jan. 4. Five days…