How will Biden vaccine requirement affect South Florida businesses?

Many private companies were already beginning to require COVID-19 shots when President Joe Biden announced a strict new policy Thursday. See how Miami-Dade is reacting to the news.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – At a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site in Overtown, Dr. Darren Thornton said he’s already fielded questions from people now needing a shot for work.

“Right now we are at a point where most of the people who wanted to get vaccinated have been vaccinated,” he said. “The fact that ‘the reason we go to work because we can’t afford not to’ — that usually comes into play and they decide to get it.”

Some private businesses were already rolling out vaccine requirements when President Joe Biden announced a mandate Thursday, saying that companies with more than 100 workers must require vaccination or weekly testing of employees.

“When you think about Miami Dade County, most of our businesses are well under 100-employees,” said Mark Trowbridge, president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. “What we have seen so far is that companies want some cover. Until the president drew the line in the sand it was all over the place, so now at least we have some direction.”

Said Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce President Alfred Sanchez: “Obviously the president is concerned about keeping the economy at a high level and booming again ... but the reality is the business community always responds better to incentives rather than mandates.”

The variant-driven case surge threatening economic gains, workforce productivity and driving up healthcare costs is already incentivizing companies to explore vaccine mandates, Sanchez explained.

“But the majority of our companies are smaller than that [100 workers], so if we really want to move the needle we need to include small businesses,” he said.

Back in Overtown, Torin Ragin, president of the International Longshoreman Association Local 1416 said “the [COVID] numbers are really scaring us. We represent longshore workers responsible for everything and anything that comes on or off Port Miami.”

They hosted a vaccination site for workers and community members, recalling how devastating it was for workers when the cruise industry had to close. Worried new outbreaks could claim lives and stall industry, Ragin said they are strongly encouraging members to get vaccinated.

“And if not vaccination, testing absolutely,” he said. “We are not pushing the mandate, but there is a possibility if you are not vaccinated we will require a negative test every week. That is something that is going to be discussed.”

The vaccination event is supported by Transport Workers Union Local 291. That is the union representing 2,100 Miami-Dade County transit workers.

In a news release about the vaccine outreach site in Overtown on Friday, a union spokesperson said two additional transit workers died from COVID-19, marking the third death in one week, including the passing of TWU local 291 board member Michael Williams a week ago.

Over the past month, a spokesperson for that union says they have lost eight members to COVID-19.

When Local 10 News asked Local 291 President Jeffrey Mitchell about Biden’s vaccine mandate announcement, he replied in a statement:

“We welcome any actions that will help get our communities closer to safety and further away from the fatal impact of this pandemic, particularly for our communities of color. Ideally, a mandate should be coupled with proper education about the vaccine so that individuals can be at ease with the process rather than be traumatized by it. Our goal should be to create a new generation that can trust in public health initiatives rather than fear them.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."