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Why more than half of Taco Bell workers are unvaccinated
In June, Taco Bell locations in California offered "a free seasoned beef Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Tacos" to anyone who provided proof of vaccination. The company said it was offering the promotion because there are "still plenty of young people who need to get vaccinated." The company said that it was important to "increase vaccinations" to keep everyone safe.
But if you stop in for a Chalupa today, the odds are that your cashier still won't be vaccinated. A new study found that, as of November 2021, just 46% of Taco Bell workers have received a vaccine.
The same study found low vaccination rates at many of the nation's most popular casual restaurants — including Subway (43%), IHOP (47%), Waffle House (50%), Burger King (51%), Domino's (51%), Chick-fil-A (53%), and Wendy's (54%). Frontline employees at these establishments are at high risk because they are exposed to large numbers of people in enclosed spaces. Yet their vaccination rates lag well behind the overall adult population (72%).
The study was conducted by The Shift Project, which is jointly run by the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of San Francisco. The Shift Project regularly surveys frontline employees in a variety of sectors about working conditions.
The study suggests that the low vaccination rates at Taco Bell and other chains is partially due to the failure of these companies to provide support to their employees. Companies that provided time off to receive a vaccine, provided an opportunity to be vaccinated at the workplace, or provided time off for side effects generally had much higher overall vaccination rates than companies that provided no support.
Starbucks, for example, provides "two hours of paid time off" for each dose of the vaccine. The Shift Project found Starbucks employees have a 79% vaccination rate. The Shift Project concluded that "employer supports can help move the needle on vaccination."
Some workers, however, are unlikely to be vaccinated voluntarily. 56% of unvaccinated workers say they "don't trust the vaccine."
Employees who "don't trust the vaccine" or who are "not worried about COVID" are unlikely to be vaccinated unless it is mandatory. The Biden administration has issued rules requiring all workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. The rules, slated to go into effect in January, would cover many workers at casual restaurant chains.
But these chains, through their trade association, the National Restaurant Association, are trying to prevent the mandate from going into effect.
Protecting executives, not the public
Corporate executives understand that to stay safe, the people around them need to be vaccinated. At Taco Bell, for example, all corporate employees will be required to be vaccinated by January 3, 2022.
Taco Bell is instituting a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health and safety reasons. Effective January 3, 2022, Taco Bell requires that corporate employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
There is no such requirement at Taco Bell restaurants, including company-owned locations. This is the case even though those who work at restaurants are at higher risk and interact much more frequently with the public.
McDonald’s has had a vaccine requirement in place at its corporate offices since September 27 — but not its restaurants. According to the Shift survey, 56% of McDonald's frontline employees are vaccinated.
National Restaurant Association opposes vaccine mandates
Vaccine mandates in other sectors have been proven to increase vaccination rates, specifically among “hesitant or resistant workers.” In September, after a mandate imposed in California required all healthcare workers be vaccinated, “major health systems reported that the mandate had helped boost their vaccination rates to 90 percent or higher.”
In New York, “thousands of hospital and nursing home workers” were compelled to get the vaccine after a mandate came into effect. The Shift Project survey also found that when CVS required “corporate staff and patient-facing workers such as nurses, care managers and pharmacists to be vaccinated,” vaccination rates reached 86 percent.
Despite this, the National Restaurant Association, which “represent[s] and advocate[s] on behalf of more than 500,000 restaurant businesses,” including both Subway and Taco Bell, has made it clear that it opposes vaccine mandates.
After the Biden administration issued the rule requiring employees at businesses with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) introduced a resolution to “overturn President Biden’s mandate to force private businesses to require COVID-19 vaccines for their employees.”
The Senate voted 52-48 to approve the resolution, which was co-sponsored by all 50 Republican Senators, and it now requires House approval. The effort to overturn the rule, which described the vaccine mandate as "a highly inappropriate invasion of what should be a personal medical decision for every American,” was supported by the National Restaurant Association.
In November, the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate was blocked by a federal court in November but was reinstated by a different federal court last Friday. Republicans are now asking the Supreme Court to intervene before the mandate goes into effect on January 4.
If a national vaccine mandate is upheld, the National Restaurant Association plans on exploiting a loophole that would allow many employees to remain unvaccinated. The National Restaurant Association released a statement stating that “if each franchise location is independently owned, the franchise counts its own employees only. For multi-unit franchises, they may be regarded as a ‘single company’ if they ‘handle safety matters as one company.’” Since many franchisees have less than 100 employees, this approach could allow Taco Bell and other chains to avoid the vaccine mandate at some locations.