ROHNERT PARK AND COTATI, CA — Starbucks will no longer require COVID-19 vaccinations of its 228,000 workers at 9,000 U.S. coffee shops, including those in Rohnert Park and Cotati.
Starbucks is one of the first big companies to change vaccination policies after the U.S. Supreme Court quashed a vaccine mandate that would have affected about 84 million workers, or about half of the U.S. labor force. Had the mandate been allowed to stand, workers would have had to either get fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
The court’s Jan. 13, 6-3 ruling came as the omicron coronavirus variant was driving a surge in COVID-19 infections. Nothing in the Supreme Court ruling, which allows the Biden administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most U.S. health care workers, requires companies with 100 or more employees to ease vaccination requirements.
In Sonoma County, public health officials strongly recommend that all employers in the county require workers to provide proof of full vaccination for COVID-19, including a booster if eligible, or show proof of at least twice weekly COVID-19 testing. In addition, employers should consider requiring employees who are unvaccinated, or who have not received the booster and are eligible, to wear FDA-cleared surgical masks or respirators in indoor work settings, the county said.
Further, Dr. Sundari Mase, the county's health officer, issued two health orders requiring booster shots or twice-weekly testing for local school employees and for personnel working in fire, law enforcement, emergency medical services, pharmacies, dental offices and temporary disaster shelters in Sonoma County. The mandatory orders take effect Feb. 1, although Public Health highly recommends that employers covered by the orders immediately begin testing unvaccinated and unboosted employees at least twice weekly.
The county mandate expanded a California Department of Public Health order requiring health care workers, adult care facilities and direct care workers, and correctional facility and detention center health care staff to get a booster shot by Feb. 1 and be tested at least twice weekly until they receive the booster shot.
The new Starbucks vaccination policy, first reported by The Associated Press, was announced in a Jan. 18 memo to employees.
Amtrak temporarily suspended its vaccine mandate in December, before the Supreme Court ruling. In a memo to employees seen by Reuters, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said nearly 96 percent of its employees were either fully vaccinated or had received an accommodation for religious or medical reasons.
More big businesses operating in Rohnert Park and Cotati could follow suit as the coronavirus surge worsens the country’s labor shortage. A record 8.8 million people called out sick with COVID-19 between Dec. 29-Jan. 10, according to data reported by The Washington Post.
Retail establishments and their advocates have been vocal critics of the now-blocked requirement, arguing they’re already struggling to find enough workers as the coronavirus pandemic persists. Millions of Americans have quit their jobs since the pandemic began in what’s being called “The Great Resignation.”
Brett Coburn, a lawyer at Atlanta-based Alston & Bird, told The New York Times “a lot of companies were pursuing the vaccine or test requirement only because they were being required to do so.”
The AP reported Boston-based General Electric Co. got rid of its vaccine mandate last week after the court ruled, according to IEU-CWA Local 201, the union representing machinists, electricians and other GE employees. Overall, GE has 56,000 U.S. workers.
Not all big businesses plan to follow the lead of Starbucks and GE, though. New York-based Citigroup Inc., one of the largest banks in the U.S., in October said its workers needed to be fully vaccinated or receive an accommodation by Jan. 14. Citigroup told the AP that 99 percent of its employees are now fully vaccinated.
It’s up to employers to navigate state and local laws in the absence of a federal mandate. More than a dozen states prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates of any kind, CNBC reported.
“For most employers, it has proved to be a day-to-day crisis because when they think they know the answer, the rules change,” Domenique Camacho Moran, a labor and employment lawyer with the firm Farrell Fritz, told The New York Times.