Wall Street Tiptoes Around Texas Politics While Pushing Vaccines
(Bloomberg) -- As big Wall Street banks crank up pressure on employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, they have yet to adopt policies that might clash with states such as Texas, where officials are outspoken critics of mandating shots.
It’s no coincidence, according to industry insiders. Firms aren’t eager to wade into the culture wars.
“I have clients that would love to do a mandate and they are just hemming and hawing,” said Regina Phelps, the founder of Emergency Management & Safety Solutions, which helps banks and other big companies with crisis management and business continuity. “Some of them are even concerned about doing a survey because they’re afraid that will push employees to think they are going to be mandated.”
It’s worth watching how Wall Street firms navigate the hot-button question of requiring shots because the industry is at the forefront of corporate America’s attempts to refill skyscrapers.
Most of the largest U.S. banks are based in vaccine-friendly Manhattan, but for years they have been shifting jobs to locations in states such as Texas and Florida. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order banning local authorities from requiring vaccines, and Florida’s Ron DeSantis has taken issue with businesses requiring “vaccine passports” for entry.
That raises the odds that banks could draw fresh political attacks if they impose mandates, after past stances on serving companies in the fossil fuel, firearm and private prison industries set off criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Take Citigroup Inc. The third-largest U.S. bank has told employees in U.S. locations such as New York and New Jersey that they must get inoculated and commute into work at least a couple of days a week by mid-September. But it has yet to reopen offices in Texas, Missouri and Kentucky, citing local health data.
The approach allows Citigroup to skirt tension with angry politicians and employees in places where vaccine hesitancy is higher, according to a person with knowledge of the firm’s thinking.
Citigroup managers got a sense of the rank-and-file’s skepticism of shots while hosting a briefing by top doctors at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital this summer. During the event, employees peppered the experts with questions about whether there are links between vaccines and autism or infertility. (There’s no current research to support that, they were told.)
Read more: Wall Street revises the rules for return to office
JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank, paired one of the industry’s most aggressive approaches to returning to work with one of the loosest policies on vaccines. It began requiring all U.S. staff to report to offices in July, including in the Dallas area, home to more than 12,000 employees. But so far, it isn’t requiring shots. In fact, an internal survey asking employees about their vaccination status offered the option not to disclose it.
Other big banks mandating shots to enter their buildings are letting unvaccinated staff work from home.
For Goldman Sachs Group Inc., that marked a change in course. The firm, which has been expanding its presence in Texas, had ordered all U.S. workers to report to its offices by mid-June. But after the delta variant spread and infection rates soared, the bank decided in August to require shots to enter its workplaces. Now, employees who aren’t fully inoculated by Sept. 7 are expected to log on remotely.
Wells Fargo & Co. -- the U.S. bank with the biggest workforce -- has been encouraging but not requiring vaccines. The percentage of employees who have been fully vaccinated generally mirrors the varying local rates across the country, including in places where it’s relatively low, according to a person familiar with the situation. This week, the company delayed a plan to return more people to work, pushing it back until mid-October.
Texas, in particular, has shown it’s not afraid to punish Wall Street for policies that local lawmakers find objectionable.
Abbott earlier this year signed a law that bans state and local governments from working with banks that refuse to deal with the firearms industry. Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup, the top two underwriters in the $3.9 trillion municipal bond-market, had both restricted work with the firearms industry after the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
When it comes to vaccinations, Bank of America is focusing first on bringing back employees who’ve had their shots. As for those who haven’t, the bank has said it will resolve that later.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.