The White House makes its vaccine pitch
President Biden is headed to Chicago today, where he will make another push for companies to announce coronavirus vaccine mandates. He plans to meet with Scott Kirby of United Airlines and to visit a construction company considering a mandate, a White House official told DealBook. Throughout, the president will stress the message that vaccine mandates are crucial to the economic recovery. To bolster its case, the White House released a report this morning on the effects of corporate vaccine mandates to date.
In September, the president asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write rules that would require companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing. While OSHA goes through the lengthy rule-making process, which could take several more weeks, the White House is urging companies to act now.
OSHA is working on standards that pass legal muster. That includes a number of rigorous, time-consuming steps, like demonstrating that workers face a grave danger at work and that a rule is necessary to address the danger. The agency is also working through the long list of questions that business groups have sent seeking guidance on the finer points of vaccine mandates. A few of the thorny issues:
Will independent contractors count toward the 100-employee threshold?
Who will pay for testing? Companies? The government? The unvaccinated?
Will vaccine mandates include boosters, if approved?
The White House says early evidence shows that vaccine mandates work. United Airlines, which announced a mandate in August, recently reported that 99 percent of its workers had been vaccinated and that it had received 20,000 applications for about 2,000 flight attendant positions, a much higher ratio than before the pandemic. Tyson Foods reported a 91 percent vaccination rate ahead of a November deadline, compared with less than half before its mandate announcement in August. Those figures will probably be cited in efforts to address concerns among employers that mandates would cause workers to quit, particularly in industries facing labor shortages.
The White House argues that vaccine mandates are good for the economy. In its report, it cited a Goldman Sachs report estimating that the government order could lead to an increase in vaccinations that would encourage “many of the five million workers that have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic to return.” The administration also highlighted the economic burden that hospital stays for the unvaccinated put on the system.
The OSHA standards would give reluctant companies even more cover. Several big employers have imposed mandates since Biden’s announcement, including 3M and Procter & Gamble. Others, like JPMorgan Chase and Walmart, have yet to issue broad requirements. But even after OSHA finalizes its rules, some employers wary of mandates may not act, betting that they won’t be punished because of the agency’s limited enforcement resources or that the standards could get bogged down in court.
“Some companies are looking at it and saying, ‘Great that those employers had a good experience. I don’t know if we’ll have the same experience,’” Douglas Brayley, an employment lawyer at Ropes and Gray, told DealBook. “Or, they may look at it and say, ‘Great, they had a 91 percent vaccination rate, but we are so thinly staffed we couldn’t possibly lose 9 percent of our work force.’”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Democrats and Republicans approach a two-month debt limit extension. The short-term deal took shape after President Biden met with finance executives who said that the threat of a government debt default this month was already hurting the economic recovery. “The latest plan to stop the U.S. defaulting for no reason whatsoever is taken directly from the Greek default crisis handbook — kick the can down the road,” Paul Donovan of UBS wrote in a research note.
A data breach hits Twitch. An anonymous hacker published what appeared to be an enormous trove of data from the Amazon-owned video streaming service, including the history of Twitch’s source code, information about payouts to streamers and an unreleased online game store. Twitch confirmed that a breach had taken place.
The Facebook whistle-blower takes her case abroad. Frances Haugen, who testified at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, has also spoken with policymakers in Brussels, London and Paris about the need for more oversight of the social media giant. Facebook is slowing product upgrades amid the scrutiny, as well as limiting how much information is shared within the company.
Tesla faces a boardroom challenge at its annual shareholder meeting. At the electric-vehicle maker’s gathering today, which comes shortly after reporting record deliveries, some investors are trying to oust two directors: the former Fox executive James Murdoch; and Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla’s chief, Elon Musk.
Moderna plans to build a vaccine factory in Africa. The pharma firm said that it would invest $500 million in the plant, in a location not yet decided, where it will make up to 500 million doses a year of mRNA vaccines, including its coronavirus shot. Separately, Asian countries have joined the U.S. in making deals with Merck for supplies of the antiviral pill that the company says cuts risk of hospitalization and death from Covid.
G.M. thinks big
General Motors announced an ambitious plan yesterday to more than double its revenue by 2030. The target is based on investments G.M. has made in electric vehicles and self-driving technology, as well as on its push into services, like auto insurance. It also reflects the grand ambition of Mary Barra, the C.E.O., to transform G.M. and defend its business from the tech companies that have been trying to outmaneuver it.
“Think about the vehicle not only as an electric vehicle, but as a software platform,” Barra said, sounding a lot more like Steve Jobs than the G.M. legend Alfred Sloan. To that end, the automakers’s plan includes:
30 models of electric vehicles by 2025, including a $30,000 S.U.V.; a glass roofed, all-wheel-drive Chevrolet Silverado pickup; and a plug-in Hummer.
An expansion of services, including an electric-van delivery service called Brightdrop; Cruise, an Uber rival that uses autonomous driving; and in-car subscription services, like OnStar, that it projects to bring in tens of billions of dollars by the end of the decade.
By the numbers: Barra’s time at the top of G.M. has generally been seen as successful. She took over in 2013, steered the company through an ignition scandal, and nearly doubled profits in her first four years at the helm — though that growth came through cost controls, not increased revenue. The company’s stock has risen more than 30 percent this year, nearly double the gain in the S&P 500 but about half the rise in Ford’s shares over the same period.
G.M.’s sales last year were $122 billion, or about $30 billion lower than when Barra joined. The company’s new goal is to reach $280 billion of revenue in nine years. Wall Street analysts have projected that G.M.’s sales will rise to $175 billion by 2025, as compiled by the data service Sentieo. That path would leave the company about $50 billion short of its 2030 goal. And that goal is complicated by another company priority: G.M. said that it wanted to phase out sales of gas-powered vehicles, which comprise the bulk of its sales, by 2035.
The State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the F.D.A. granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for mandates in both the public and private sectors. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. California became the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all educators and to announce plans to add the Covid-19 vaccine as a requirement to attend school, which could start as early as next fall. Los Angeles already has a vaccine mandate for public school students 12 and older that begins Nov. 21. New York City’s mandate for teachers and staff, which went into effect Oct. 4 after delays due to legal challenges, appears to have prompted thousands of last-minute shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Mandates for health care workers in California and New York State appear to have compelled thousands of holdouts to receive shots.
- Indoor activities. New York City requires workers and customers to show proof of at least one dose of the Covid-19 for indoor dining, gyms, entertainment and performances. Starting Nov. 4, Los Angeles will require most people to provide proof of full vaccination to enter a range of indoor businesses, including restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theaters and salons, in one of the nation’s strictest vaccine rules.
- At the federal level. On Sept. 9, President Biden announced a vaccine mandate for the vast majority of federal workers. This mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services.
- In the private sector. Mr. Biden has mandated that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies. Some companies, like United Airlines and Tyson Foods, had mandates in place before Mr. Biden’s announcement.
“We have to make agriculture sexy.”
— Xavier Niel, the French tech billionaire who is the main backer of Hectar, a start-up based on a century-old farm west of Paris. The company is using algorithms and robots to try to make farming better for the environment and more attractive to younger workers.
Crypto regulation heats up
The wrangling over spending bills and debt-ceiling dramas may be generating the biggest headlines in Washington, but the race to regulate the fast-growing cryptocurrency industry is also ramping up. Here’s a tour of some of the key developments this week:
Activist groups target crypto’s environmental impact. Today, more than 70 nonprofit groups, including the Sierra Club, the Open Markets Institute and the Action Center on Race and the Economy, urged Congress to consider crypto’s energy use when writing new rules for the sector. “As you explore legislative and regulatory responses to ensure investor protection in the industry, it is critical that you also consider the financial stability risks that climate change presents,” they wrote in a letter shared exclusively with DealBook that took particular issue with many cryptocurrencies’ energy-intensive “mining” process.
Industry players make the case for balance. The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz submitted a proposal to the Senate Banking Committee outlining its view on the future of digital assets and decentralized technology. The firm, which runs a big crypto fund, urged lawmakers to “ensure that the private sector can experiment and build” as it protects against “the real downside risks that might otherwise harm individuals.”
They also complain about burnout. Brian Armstrong, the C.E.O. of Coinbase, a large crypto exchange, tweeted yesterday that company chiefs in the U.S. were under too much pressure from officials, the news media and the public. He likened this to the crackdown on companies in China, “putting something that gets too successful in its place.”
Crypto notches a win. The S.E.C. approved Volt Equity’s exchange-traded fund that tracks companies whose values swing with Bitcoin prices, with an emphasis on firms that hold Bitcoin on their balance sheets. It’s not quite a pure Bitcoin E.T.F., but it brings the industry closer to that long-sought goal. Investors want “exposure to Bitcoin price movement,” Volt Equity’s Tad Park told DealBook, without necessarily buying crypto directly.
THE SPEED READ
Barry Diller’s Dotdash publishing unit agreed to buy the magazine giant Meredith, owner of People and of Better Homes & Gardens, for $2.7 billion. (NYT)
Twitter will sell MoPub, a platform for selling mobile advertising that it bought eight years ago, to AppLovin for just over $1 billion. (NYT)
Japan Post plans to sell $9 billion of shares, the final stage in a privatization process that began in 2005. (FT)
Josh Harris, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management who was sidelined in a power struggle, sold another big chunk of shares in the firm. (Bloomberg)
The fix for Facebook starts with recognizing the social network’s original sin, Shira Ovide writes. (OnTech)
“What a Trillion-Dollar Coin Can Teach Us.” (Times Opinion)
President Biden and Xi Jinping of China will hold their first summit, a virtual meeting, before the end of the year. (NYT)
Los Angeles will require proof of full coronavirus vaccination to enter many businesses, one of the strictest rules in the U.S. (NYT)
Best of the rest
The star tech investor Cathie Woods is relocating her firm, Ark Investment, from New York to Florida. (Bloomberg)
How AT&T helped to build the far-right One America News Network. (Reuters)
In the fifth week of the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, there were brief moments of drama amid long stretches of technical tedium. (NYT)
“How Larry Fink Became King of Wall Street” (FT)
The art of the “out of office” automated reply. (Economist)
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