Biden to tout vaccine mandates for large companies in Chicago trip

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Chicago on Thursday to meet with the United Airlines chief executive and local Democratic leaders, as he touts his decision to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates on employees of large firms, the White House said.

U.S. President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One for travel to Michigan from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Biden last month ordered all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, with few exceptions, and for private employers with 100 or more workers to require employees to be vaccinated or get tested for the coronavirus weekly.

The order spurred pushback from high profile Republican governors including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, who vowed to fight the administration’s move “to the gates of hell.”

Biden plans to highlight what he considers local success stories, including a move by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to set an October deadline for all employees to be fully vaccinated, as well as Chicago-based United’s role as the first U.S. carrier to require immunizations.

“The President’s message will be clear: Vaccination requirements work,” the White House said in an emailed statement, previewing the visit. Such mandates “get more people vaccinated, helping to end the pandemic and strengthen the economy,” the statement added.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients echoed the theme in an interview with CNN on Thursday. “Vaccine requirements work. They’re also good for the economy, and it gets people back into the workplace,” he said.

In addition to Lightfoot and United CEO Scott Kirby, Biden will be accompanied by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who announced requirements in August for eligible students and school employees to be vaccinated.

Biden’s mandate announcement was a breaking-point moment as his administration struggled to control the pandemic, which has killed more than 700,000 Americans, as a large swath of the nation’s population refused to accept free vaccinations that have been available for months.

The mandate, which the White House says will cover 100 million U.S. workers and applies to about two-thirds of all U.S. employees, is being written in part by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A surge of hospitalizations and deaths caused by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has posed increased risk not just to the country but to a president who ran on promises to get control of the pandemic. Biden’s approval ratings have sagged since he said in July the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday that cases and hospitalizations have edged down on average over the last seven days, but cautioned that deaths – a lagging indicator – are still at 1,400 per day.

Biden will also visit a construction site in Elk Grove Village being built by construction firm Clayco, which plans to implement a system of vaccinations or testing for all its employees, the White House said.

United Airlines said last month that nearly 600 U.S.-based employees faced termination after failing to comply with the carrier’s vaccination policy.

American Airlines and aircraft parts manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems said on Wednesday they would meet a deadline of Dec. 8 set by Biden to require vaccines for their employees.

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