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Detroit highlights the tension over COVID vaccine mandates

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FILE PHOTO: Logo of GM atop the company headquarters
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(This Aug. 26 story corrects to remove reference to number of workers represented by unions in paragraph 14. The error occurred in a previous version as well)

By Abhijith Ganapavaram and Chris Kahn

(Reuters) - Public support for stronger measures to require COVID vaccinations is strong, according to a new Reuters/IPSOS poll, but for Detroit automakers the debate over vaccination policy is far from over.

General Motors Co said on Thursday it has required its U.S. salaried employees to report whether they have received COVID-19 shots, the first such action by one of Detroit's "Big Three" automakers.

GM said the information will help "determine when GM should relax or strengthen certain COVID-19 safety protocols as recommended by the CDC and OSHA, such as mask wearing, physical distancing and facility occupancy rates," referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Separately, United Auto Workers President Ray Curry on Thursday expressed support for only voluntary measures to encourage vaccination or survey workers' vaccination status.

The UAW, with nearly 400,000 members, represents U.S. factory workers at GM, Ford Motor Co, Stellantis NV as well as workers at other U.S. manufacturers, colleges, government agencies and casinos.

"We would be open to discussion about voluntary efforts," Curry said during a videoconference on Thursday.

Steps such as GM's plan to gather information about employees' vaccination status would be subject to bargaining before they could be applied to UAW workers, Curry said. Such data collection would raise medical privacy concerns, he said.

Likewise, Curry said the UAW would expect companies to negotiate before following the example of Delta Air Lines, which said it will charge unvaccinated employees https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/delta-add-200-monthly-health-insurance-charge-unvaccinated-staff-2021-08-25 an extra $200 a month for company health coverage.

"We have not had an employer reach out to discuss with us" a vaccine mandate or a penalty for workers who are not vaccinated, Curry said.

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds support for employer vaccination requirements.

The poll found that 60% of adults support employers who require people to show a proof of vaccination before allowing them to return to the office, while 34% oppose vaccine requirements. The poll, conducted from Aug. 13 to 19, gathered responses from 4,427 adults and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

About two-thirds of American adults support mask requirements in restaurants, airplanes, gyms and the workplace, while less than one-third oppose them, the poll found.

Detroit automakers have reinstated masking requirements in their factories as the Delta variant of the coronavirus has spread. But they have so far not proposed broad measures to require vaccinations.

GM has about 48,000 salaried workers in the United States, as per its annual regulatory filing.

"GM earlier this month implemented an expanded vaccination status reporting process that was mandatory for all U.S. salaried employees. We gathered this information via a confidential online tool," the company said in a statement.

Ford is requiring salaried staff who travel internationally to get vaccinated. "We are currently assessing whether we need to expand the requirement," the company said in a statement.

(Reporting by Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; Writing by Joseph White; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jonathan Oatis)