All the World’s a Stage

Broadway’s reopening today— with vaccinations and masks required— signals a glimpse into the future of events, with a mix of strictly-regulated in-person, hybrid and virtual events continuing.

The summer’s peak in vaccination rates allowed in-person events to take place again and gave organizers time to establish health and safety guidelines, providing confidence for the months ahead. Crowds are returning to concerts and sporting events, with Lollapalooza recently drawing a 385,000-person turnout over four days, and the US Open, NFL and college football opening at 100% capacity in stadiums with varying policies and protocols. 

But with a rise in cases and hospitalizations due to Delta, some are weighing the optics and the return on investment of in-person events this fall. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival rescheduled for October was canceled for the second year following an uptick in cases in Louisiana. The International Auto Show was also scrapped in the face of changing regulations in New York City, saving automakers uncertainty and expense. 

In the case of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly, many countries are expected to decide their in-person attendance closer to the week of the general debate—including the US, which called for the events to take place virtually. 

The benefits of virtual events have become abundantly clear over the past eighteen months, offering flexibility, accessibility and reach. 

More in-person events will take place this fall, alleviating some virtual fatigue. But there will still be cancelations and pivots—and plenty planning for virtual or hybrid events from the start.

Family Matters

The United States’ longstanding status as a global outlier without a nationwide paid family and medical leave could be changing. 

Congress is poised to fill the gap in care infrastructure by passing a long-awaited family leave policy this month through budget reconciliation, ending its tenure as one of the few industrialized countries without one.

House Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee took their first steps toward developing the federal program in a markup hearing last week. The plan they developed could pave the way for most workers to collect at least two-thirds of their earnings if they are absent for reasons including childbirth or illness, with additional sums set aside for lower-income families.

Passing paid leave is likely to expedite our post-COVID economic recovery. One new survey shows paid family leave policies could help get many Americans who have been sidelined from the workforce during the pandemic back to work. 

Currently, 79% of workers do not have access to paid family leave, while 60% do not have access to paid medical leave. The survey found 37% of unemployed Americans said they would return to work sooner if their employer offered paid family leave, including 45% of unemployed caregivers.

The fate of paid leave and the scale of the federal program will largely be driven by negotiations in the Senate in the weeks ahead. But paid leave is one of the most popular economic policies included in the Build Back Better Plan, enjoying broad bipartisan support among voters in swing states leading up to the 2022 midterms.

One recent poll found 84% of likely voters— including 74% of Republicans— support paid leave programs. And 69% of those polled, including 55% of surveyed Republicans, would support a federal leave standard even if they’d have to pay more in taxes to sustain it.

Working 9 to 5?

With the Great Resignation ongoing, our Research and Insights team took a look at moods and opinions around labor and labor unions in the U.S. — and found that attitudes diverge sharply along party and racial lines: 

  • 55% of U.S. adults say labor unions have a positive impact on the way things are going in the country. But the partisan gap between Democrats (74%) and Republicans (34%) who believe so has grown to a staggering 40 pts.
  • Eighteen percent of U.S. workers say they are worried they will be laid off soon— nine points less than the 27% who said the same last year.
    • Non-white workers (28%) are more than twice as likely as white workers (13%) to be worried about layoffs in the near future. 
  • Less than a third of U.S. workers are completely satisfied with the amount of on-the-job stress they face. Nearly three quarters (72%) are completely satisfied with their coworker relations and their workplaces’ physical safety conditions.
  • The majority of U.S. employees who typically work five days per week say their wellbeing is thriving (57%), but about a quarter say they feel burned out often or always. 
  • Seventeen percent of Americans are members of a labor union or have a household member who is in a labor union.
  • One-third of U.S. adults say labor unions have become less powerful over the past 30 years, including 45% of Democrats, 32% of Independents and 25% of Republicans.

Strong Support for Mandate Vaccines Heading into Fall

As Americans consider their plans for the fall, the delta variant is instilling new anxieties, even among those confident in the vaccine.

FGH turned to Trendspotters – our insight community of engaged publics – to understand how delta is shaping feelings towards COVID-19 vaccine requirements and expectations for employers when it comes to mandating vaccines for their employees:

  • Concerns about the delta variant translate to strong support for requiring proof of vaccination for a variety of activities, almost double those who strongly oppose. Support is particularly strong for things like international air travel, domestic air travel and large indoor events.
  • The difference in intensity between supporters and opponents may indicate that we are approaching a tipping point where those who have not gotten their COVID vaccine will face significant limitations to what they are able to do should they choose to remain unvaccinated.
  • Most employers have permission to mandate vaccinations for employees and there is widespread support for President Biden’s statement encouraging employers to require vaccinations. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support mandates for employees in healthcare settings, as well as those who work for the federal government, state or local government, K-12 schools, and universities. However, there is less Republican support for private companies.

Read the full report from this research here.

Corporate Response to Texas Abortion Law

Corporations have been increasingly drawn into social and political issues in recent years but so far have remained relatively silent on at one of the most divisive: abortion

With a few notable exceptions, business leaders have been not responded to controversial new abortion restrictions in Texas, especially compared to when Texas lawmakers advanced a restrictive voting rights bill this year

But of course, abortion and voting rights carry different risks for speaking out. An earlier Trendspotters survey that FGH conducted this spring found engaged voters support corporate leaders speaking out on issues core to their business objectives, like getting their employees back to work in the pandemic. But they were less likely to support business leaders taking a stance on other social issues. 

Corporate responses to the Texas law have been largely limited to the tech sector. First Lyft and then Uber offered to cover legal fees for drivers sued under the Texas law for helping women get to abortion clinics. The leaders of dating app companies Match and Bumble have set up funds to help Texans seeking an abortion. And some prominent Hollywood voices called for a boycott of business in the state. 

And on the other side, John Gibson, the president of game maker Tripwire Interactive, said Saturday he was motivated by the voices in opposition to the law to speak out in support of Texas’ action. The Tweet sparked calls for a boycott and by Monday, Gibson was forced to step down.

Back-to-School Case Crisis

While my children’s elementary school had several COVID cases within the building last year, it was a comfort that there didn’t appear to spread within the building. But that all changed as soon as students returned last week — and immediately we appear to have community spread among students within one classroom

It turns out my kids’ school is not alone. The start of the school year for students across the country has led to an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases in children – which now account for 22.4% of weekly U.S. cases. School districts across the country have taken vastly different approaches to navigating in-person learning to varying degrees of success. Parents want to see their children back in the classroom, but safety is a top priority and many parents support mandated safety measures such as masks or requiring teachers to be vaccinated.

Without proper safety measures in place, coronavirus outbreaks – now driven almost entirely by the Delta variant in the U.S. – could send classrooms back online or force some districts to close entirely. And that could have impacts on employers who want to bring their parents back to work. One Texas school district closed all schools after two teachers died from COVID-19 complications in the same week.

Some schools are using test-to-stay methods that rely on daily rapid testing of students and staff to prevent kids from missing days in class due to quarantine after exposure. New coronavirus variants pose a higher risk for children under 12 who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. A recent study from the CDC reported unvaccinated adolescents were hospitalized with COVID-19 at 10 times the rate of their vaccinated peers.

Corporations Turn to Afghanistan

In the latest example of the business world taking action on social and geopolitical issues, corporations are supporting refugees, servicemembers and veterans as the crisis in Afghanistan captures headlines around the world.

Offering meaningful assistance to refugees and others impacted can be a powerful statement of a brand’s values. But companies should avoid moves that could look transactional or even exploitative for the purposes of building their own reputations.

Several companies are already attracting significant media attention for their announcements around Afghanistan:  

  • Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced the company will provide free temporary housing globally for 20,000 refugees fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. 
  • Walmart plans to donate $1 million to three nonprofits supporting Afghan refugees entering the United States, as well as to veterans and their families. 
  • Verizon will waive charges for calls from its consumer and business customers to Afghanistan from Aug. 24 through Sept. 6.
  • Health care company Hims & Hers will provide relocated Afghan refugees 10,000 primary care and mental health visits for free. 

The U.S. government also enlisted six commercial airlines to help transport refugees, with both American Airlines and United Airlines stating they were proud to be of service.