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John Deere Reman’s Jena Holtberg-Benge, left, leads a panel discussion with Chris Stange of Digital Monitoring Products, Maria Matamoro of The French’s Food Co., Krisi Schell of SRC and Tim Massey of Penmac.
McKenzie Robinson | SBJ
John Deere Reman’s Jena Holtberg-Benge, left, leads a panel discussion with Chris Stange of Digital Monitoring Products, Maria Matamoro of The French’s Food Co., Krisi Schell of SRC and Tim Massey of Penmac.

At manufacturing event, employers share vaccine mandate concerns

Posted online

The potential impact of a federally mandated COVID-19 vaccine for larger businesses is concerning but will hopefully be minor, panelists said at a Dec. 8 Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Communicating with employees about the mandate and keeping them apprised of the issue’s ongoing developments is key, said Tim Massey, CEO of Penmac Staffing Services Inc. Massey was part of a panel discussion at the chamber’s annual Manufacturing Outlook event, which drew a sold-out crowd of 400 at White River Conference Center.

“The honest and transparent answer would be we don’t know,” Massey said regarding the fallout of President Joe Biden’s mandate, which directs the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. “We’re hoping it will be minimal.”

Jena Holtberg-Benge, general manager of John Deere Reman, moderated the industry panel, which also had Chris Stange, chief financial officer at Digital Monitoring Products Inc., Maria Matamoro, plant manager at The French’s Food Co. LLC and Krisi Schell, executive vice president of human resources at SRC Holdings Corp.

“We expect some fallout just from a day-to-day basis on that,” Matamoro said, noting her company will rely on employment agencies such as Penmac to provide some additional support.

A federal appeals court last month temporarily blocked the Biden administration's vaccine rules, which were planned to take effect on Jan. 4. Numerous lawsuits also have been filed against the mandate. Those have been consolidated and reassigned to a federal appeals court in Ohio, and the case is widely expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additionally, the Senate voted 52-48 yesterday on a resolution to overturn the mandate. However, the resolution is expected to face greater opposition in the House, and White House officials say Biden will veto it if it reaches his desk.

Since French’s operates 24/7, management has been communicating with its employees around the clock in small groups, which Matamoro said makes workers more apt to ask questions, as opposed to large gatherings.

“We’re being very transparent with information about the incentive,” she said. “There’s a lot of misinformation about what it is and what it isn’t.”

Massey said a lot of the vaccination responsibility is going to fall on the employee.

Still, employers such as SRC have incentivized its workforce to get vaccinated. Schell pointed to Drive to 75, a program launched in July with the intention of reaching a 75% vaccination rate for the company’s roughly 1,900 employees. She said the program, which included over $10,000 in prizes for weekly raffles, a drawing for six ATVs and $100 for fully vaccinated individuals, has made an impact.

“At the end of August, we were at 63%. Today, we’re sitting at 71%,” she said of the vaccination rate.

This year’s Manufacturing Outlook was a return to an in-person format after last year’s was livestreamed due to COVID-19 safety precautions. The Dec. 8 event was the year’s final installment of the chamber’s annual Outlook series, which also includes programs focused on the economy and health care.

An expanded version of this article will be printed in Springfield Business Journal’s Dec. 13 print edition.

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