We thought 2020 was chaotic. Then 2021 rolled around with more of the same, plus supply chain issues. It has got to get better, right? Well, just when you thought we were safe for 2022, the vaccine mandates come along.
By now, almost everyone has heard about the attempt to mandate companies with 100 or more employees to ensure every employee has an approved COVID-19 vaccination or has undergone a weekly test at the employee’s expense. Courts have so far halted the OSHA mandate, the Medicate mandate, and the executive order requiring government contractors’ employees to get vaccinated.
Courts 3. Mandates 0. End of story, right? As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
First, some states and municipalities are issuing their own mandates. New York City is an example. Second, courts are fickle. This will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court, and the Supremes have proven their unpredictability. Finally, the Feds may simply ignore the courts, using some sort of tortured logic to justify their actions.
On Dec. 7, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “The reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work and we are confident in our ability — legally — to make these happen across the country.” In other words, the administration seems to believe the mandates will move forward.
If the mandates are enforced, I believe it will create chaos in the HVAC industry.
Leaders in the trucking industry estimate that 40% of drivers have not been vaccinated. The percentage of unvaccinated is at least that high among HVAC technicians. Frankly, every contractor I’ve asked has estimated that fewer than half of their technicians have been vaccinated.
Vaccine reluctance among technicians should not be a surprise. Their pandemic experience was different than that of the average American. As essential workers, they were able to continue their jobs despite shutdown orders. Over time, this made them less worried about the virus than people staying at home in lockdown. Many likely contracted COVID and believe themselves immune to the virus, so they cannot see the reason for the vaccine. Finally, technicians tend to be independent-minded and stubborn; that’s the type of people the job attracts. They are problem solvers who are used to reasoning out solutions. If they have not gotten the vaccine, they’ve probably developed their own reasons to skip it and are likely to dig in their heels if told otherwise.
Few contractors are large enough to be impacted by the mandate — for now. But a 100-employee mandate is only the start. If successful, it could pave the way for a 50-employee mandate, then a full mandate. However, for now, the discussion is on the 100-employee mandate.
The question is what happens to the consolidated companies. When a private equity company buys 10 companies with an average of 50 employees each, are these still treated as 10 separate subsidiaries? Or do the Feds consider them a 500-employee business? Right now, no one knows. My guess is they will be seen as one entity.
What are the technicians employed by the private equity companies likely to do — take the jab or quit? My bet is quit.
If the mandates do take effect, I predict we will see the greatest influx of seasoned technicians in the job market in, well, forever. Smaller contractors will have a hiring bonanza. A wave of start-up contracting businesses will spring from the grass as many of the technicians will suffer entrepreneurial seizures instead of working for someone else. Private equity will suddenly see their investments plunging in value.
Contractors nearing the magic mandate number will stop growth in its tracks. They will scramble to stay below the mandate’s employment threshold. Some will reduce headcount through layoffs. Others will turn all of the installation crews into independent contractors.
In short, whatever the goal of the mandates, if implemented, they would almost certainly mandate chaos in the HVAC industry. This will be devastating for some and an opportunity for others. If the mandates happen, grab the popcorn.