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Trade Group Wants Biden Administration To Clarify New Pandemic Rules

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Biden administration has announced a new plan to combat the surging pandemic. Under the proposal, federal workers are not the only ones impacted by vaccine requirements. A forthcoming federal rule will require that all businesses with 100 or more employees have to ensure every worker is either vaccinated or submits to weekly testing.

The head of a trade group that represents large consumer brands, such as Coca-Cola and Campbell's Soup, has questions about this. In a letter published today, the president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, Geoff Freeman, is calling for immediate clarity. His trade group represents more than 2 million workers. Geoff, what is the biggest, top outstanding question you need clarification on?

GEOFF FREEMAN: Well, good morning, A. I think as an industry, we support the efforts to get the American worker vaccinated. We understand the importance here, the critical nature of this. However, we can't do this in a haphazard way. What is considered documentation for proof of vaccination? Must an employee be fully vaccinated in order to work? Is there a single testing standard? There are dozens of questions that we need to work through here, and we need the Biden administration, the federal government to be a partner if we're going to succeed in this effort.

MARTINEZ: Really quick, if you had to pick the top one, the - what's the one that concerns you the most?

FREEMAN: Well, I think when you look at the - what counts as vaccination? Is it a single shot? Is it double shot? Is it boosters? This issue, as we've already seen, is changing with the weeks, right? It's changing quickly. Are the standards going to change quickly? That's very important. And then on the testing side, very important to know what qualifies. We don't have a national standard for testing. Testing kits don't produce a physical report afterwards. So what is it that qualifies there? Those two questions are critical.

MARTINEZ: And on the testing kits, what kind of costs are we talking about? What's your understanding on companies getting workers tested? Who pays for that?

FREEMAN: Well, I think that's exactly one of the questions that we've submitted to the president. We need to figure this out. There are issues with states when it comes to reimbursement. We don't know what the cost is here. We don't know who's expected to pick up that cost. And these are the types of questions that we need to work through. The only way this effort to get Americans vaccinated works is if it is a true partnership between the federal government and the private sector. We can't have the federal government hand this off to the private sector and say, now it's your responsibility. No, we need a federal government that is giving us immediate answers, that is a partner in working through these complicated situations.

MARTINEZ: Have you had any indication at all from the Biden administration that answers to those questions are coming soon?

FREEMAN: We certainly hope answers are coming soon. They are aware of our concerns. Unfortunately, our experience throughout the pandemic, going back 19 months, is that too often, we're waiting weeks or even months to get answers out of OSHA. This is not going to work in this environment. As I said, this is going to take a partnership. We are going to need rapid response. We're going to need real-time focus. The federal government, unfortunately for, perhaps, some, is going to have to move at a pace that it's not used to moving.

MARTINEZ: Let's say, Geoff, that eventually things get worked out and there is clarity to a lot of those questions that you mentioned. Is this rule, though, something that maybe your member companies could be grateful about because it essentially gives them that political cover to not have to make those mandates themselves?

FREEMAN: Well, I think that, you know, there are two aspects of this. We share the goal of getting Americans vaccinated. It's why we've leaned into incentives and other programs to encourage our workforce. We also recognize the benefit of a level playing field. So with the federal government stepping in here, it does create a level playing field. There is upside to the federal government's engagement, but that upside can only be realized with the answers that we all need.

MARTINEZ: But it takes you off the hook, though, right? I mean, is that - that's kind of the point I was looking for.

FREEMAN: Well, there's no doubt. The federal government engaging, level playing field - the workforce then understands it's not coming from the employer, from the city, from the county, from the state. They know where it's coming from. There's a degree of benefit to that, but that benefit is lost if there's confusion and anxiety.

MARTINEZ: Geoff Freeman is the president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association. Geoff, thanks a lot.

FREEMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.