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3M employees protest vaccine mandate

Protesters stand along Paris Road on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021 at the 3M plant in Columbia. The protests come after the company announced any employee not vaccinated by Dec. 8 would be subject to termination.
Cleo Norman/Columbia Missourian
Columbia Missourian
Protesters stand along Paris Road on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021 at the 3M plant in Columbia. The protests come after the company announced any employee not vaccinated by Dec. 8 would be subject to termination.

Around 35 protesters gathered outside the 3M building in Columbia on Monday morning to protest the company's new vaccine requirement. They led chants and held signs facing people driving by on Paris Road, some of whom stopped or honked to show support.

Employees expressed various concerns about safety and lack of information, echoing national opinions on vaccine mandates. The federal vaccine mandate introduced by President Joe Biden, to take effect in December, is leading a small proportion of Americans across the country to quit their jobs, according to The Associated Press. However, most employees nationally are compliant.

Some employees at the 3M manufacturing plant in Columbia said they're concerned about the time constraint the company is putting on them to get vaccinated.

The mandate requires all 3M employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, meaning employees would have to get their first dose of Moderna by Oct. 27, first dose of Pfizer by Nov. 3 or only dose of Johnson & Johnson by Nov. 24. If not, employees will be reviewed for termination, according to an email 3M sent to employees.

As 3M is a federal contractor, this requirement falls under the vaccine mandate that requires all federal government contractors to require vaccination of employees without an option for weekly testing for unvaccinated people. Qualified people can get a religious or medical exemption.

Employee Vanessa Plummer said she felt this time constraint was unreasonable for people to get everything in order.

Employees also expressed concerns about a lack of information from the company. Lex Blackthorn said 3M was unable to provide enough information to show this was a transparent and equitable decision.

"Management could not answer basic questions," Blackthorn said. "I'm not against vaccinating ... however, putting something like this into practice is not wise."

Employee George Bass felt the requirement was against his "constitutional right to feed (his) family."

"It's a sad thing to lose a job for a vaccination," Bass said. "They're not mandating the flu shot ... they're picking and choosing."

Other employees echoed Bass' sentiments that the requirement felt inconsistent with 3M actions in the past. Although the requirement is part of a federal mandate, protesters expressed frustration that they do not receive other incentives of other federally set rules, like getting federal holidays off.

Protesters held various opinions on alternative options for 3M to replace the requirement. Bryan Topash, who has been with 3M for almost four years, felt the mandate was not only unconstitutional but unnecessary.

"I don't think it should be a requirement with a company that hasn't had requirements like that (before)," Topash said.

According to Topash, 3M has encouraged masking and social distancing since the beginning of the pandemic. Topash said if 3M were to put any regulations in place, he would prefer a mask mandate over a vaccine requirement.

Other employees said they would prefer the option to test weekly but generally want 3M to leave the choice to the employees.

For employee Jayme Walker, safety concerns and lack of control under the mandate brought her to protest.

"It's more than a civil issue; it is a humane issue," Walker said.

Walker also said that, as employees are in charge of paying their health insurance and medical bills, she feels it is unfair to require the vaccine.

"I view this kind of like a form of torture on our bodies," Walker said.

Overall, employees felt the responsibility to look out for workers' best interests fell on them.

Matt Brinkman, who has been with the company for over five years, said there are many people concerned over the requirements but unwilling to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. Others at the protest commented on how they felt workers went from being treated as essential to being disposable this past year.

Karla Stites, who is vaccinated, participated in the protest to support her coworkers.

"Just because I'm vaccinated, I don't see how anybody else should have to lose their job over it," Stites said.

3M said in a statement that it is complying with the mandate because it falls under the requirements as a federal contractor with more than 100 employees.

"3M cares about its employees and their families and we want them to be healthy and safe — our objective since the pandemic began," 3M said in a statement. "We value our employees and hope they will choose to stay at 3M. We have worked hard to preserve employee choice while doing our best to ensure health and safety."

Plummer said this protest was not against 3M but against the people pushing 3M to support the federal vaccine requirement.

"Big companies should stand behind their people," Plummer said.

Xcaret Nuñez studies radio/television journalism and religious studies at the University of Missouri — Columbia.
Sophie Stephens
Cleo Norman
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