Nov 5, 2021 - COVID

The vaccine mandate and 3M

Illustration of a syringe and glass medicine bottle with a post-it note attached that says "to do"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As hundreds of Minnesota companies prepare for the Biden administration's federal vaccine-or-test mandate, some have been scrambling to comply with a more stringent mandate for federal contractors.

  • One of them is Maplewood-based 3M Co., and its new vaccine policy is getting blowback from some employees.

Driving the news: As a federal contractor, 3M had been working under a Dec. 8 deadline to get its employees vaccinated. Then, yesterday, the Biden administration kicked that deadline back to Jan. 4.

State of play: Last month, 3M asked employees to submit proof of their completed series of COVID-19 vaccine shots. Federal contractor rules don't allow employees to opt out of the vaccine and get tested weekly instead — which is an option for employees of companies that aren't federal contractors. 3M's policy still allows for religious and medical exemptions.

  • A video surfaced on YouTube of employees — not showing their heads — hold signs protesting the vaccine requirement. It had more than 30,000 views before YouTube took it down for violating its community guidelines.
  • About 35 workers staged a protest outside its Columbia, Missouri, plant last week, and a couple went on Glenn Beck's show.
  • Workers are advertising a protest outside of 3M's headquarters for Saturday.

Yes, but: Surveys have shown that while employees at companies with vaccine mandates have been vocal, few of them actually follow through and quit.

Of note: 3M wouldn't say how many of its 90,000 employees have been vaccinated.

  • It's headquartered in a metro with a nearly 80% vaccination rate, but operates plants in areas of the country with much lower vaccine adoption.

What they're saying: 3M spokesperson Jen Ehrlich said the company, like many others, has heard from employees with strong opinions on the mandate, noting that the public gatherings have been small.

  • "3M will comply with the federal vaccine mandate because ... we're a federal contractor with more than 100 employees," she said. "And we believe it's important to get our workplaces back to normal as quickly as we can."

Zoom out: 3M is not alone. Lockheed Martin, a major federal contractor, is seeing protests over its mandate, as have airlines and several other companies.

  • Locally, UnitedHeath Group unveiled a policy in early October requiring most of its employees to show proof of their completed vaccine series by Nov. 30. UHG's policy doesn't have a weekly testing alternative, either.

The intrigue: So what happens if employees won't get the jab?

  • 3M will be "reviewing their employment for termination," Ehrlich said.
  • New federal guidance gives companies some leeway, suggesting a period of counseling and education followed by discipline.

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