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IN DISCUSSION: 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 Holdings and Tim Massey of Penmac Staffing Services.
McKenzie Robinson | SBJ
IN DISCUSSION: 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 Holdings and Tim Massey of Penmac Staffing Services.

Manufacturers share vaccine mandate concerns at event

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 ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. “We’re hoping it will be minimal.”

If the U.S. Senate has something to say about the mandate, it will be minimal. Senators voted 52-48 on a Dec. 8 resolution to overturn the mandate. However, the resolution is expected to face greater opposition in the House of Representatives, and White House officials say Biden will veto it if it reaches his desk.

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.

The Biden administration also has issued mandates for federal contractors and health care workers, both of these have been temporarily blocked in court.

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 their workforce to get vaccinated. Schell pointed to its Drive to 75 program that launched in July with the intention of reaching a 75% vaccination rate for the company’s roughly 1,900 employees. She said the company offered over $10,000 in prizes for weekly raffles, a drawing for six ATVs and $100 for fully vaccinated individuals.

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

Joe Reynolds, president of Central States Industrial Equipment & Service Inc., was among those in attendance at the chamber event. He said his company has felt some pressure to have a vaccinated workforce, but it’s not from the government. CSI’s handles design, custom fabrication and distribution of stainless steel products for sanitary processing industries.

“The real pressure is our customer base that’s putting requirements on us,” he said, noting that the company, which serves the food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets, is getting letters asking for CSI employees to show proof of vaccination before entering client facilities.

The vaccination rate is around 70% for its installation and sales employees, which comprise the groups required to go into customer buildings.

“The majority of those have gotten vaccinated before we’ve asked about it,” Reynolds said. “That was a pleasant surprise.”

Reynolds said the company, which is headquartered in Springfield and has additional operations in California, Texas and North Carolina, employs 210. He was uncertain of the percentage of vaccinated employees companywide.

CSI is seeking nearly 40 additional workers, he added. Talent attraction was another topic covered by the panel. The representatives from DMP, French’s and SRC all said their companies are looking to bolster employee counts.

“We’re trying to find folks that fit our culture. We want you to have DMP DNA when you come to work,” Stange said, adding the manufacturer of electronics security and monitoring products employs a staff of 360 but is hiring for 30 more positions.

Stange said part of its talent attraction is investing in the health of its employees. Those investments include free health-focused lunch-and-learn sessions, along with an indoor walking track and on-site medical clinic.

Massey said when it comes to attracting talent, there’s no one solution that works for all companies.

“Pay is always the one that pops up, but pay’s not everything,” he said. “You do want to be competitive and define what that means for you and be educated about what your market is.”

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.

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