America’s technology companies could have done more to keep Americans informed about the coronavirus and to help people and businesses that have struggled. But they have also been decisive trendsetters in keeping their workers and the rest of us safer from the virus.
Last year, some high-profile tech companies were relatively early to close their corporate offices as coronavirus outbreaks started in the United States, and they continued to pay many hourly workers who couldn’t do their jobs remotely. Those actions from companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce, Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter probably helped save lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and perhaps beyond.
Now many of the same tech companies — along with schools and universities, health care institutions and some government employers in the United States — have started to announce vaccine mandates for staff, the resumption of requirements to wear masks, delayed reopenings of offices or on-site workplace vaccinations to help slow the latest wave of infections.
America’s tech companies, which deserve criticism for misusing their power, also should get credit for using their power to take decisive action in response to virus risks.
Those steps helped make it palatable for other organizations to follow. And in some cases, tech companies have acted more quickly in response to health threats and communicated about them more effectively than federal or local government leaders.
I get that readers will disagree over whether employers should require vaccinations or other health measures. I also get that tech companies have many advantages over other kinds of employers, including workers who can largely do their jobs away from an office. Companies that manufacture cars or airplanes, serve food or run hospitals don’t have that luxury.
And tech companies based in left-leaning parts of the United States, including the Bay Area and Seattle, are less likely to encounter backlash from staff or local politicians for requiring vaccinations. Having infinite dollars also gives tech companies the ability to do what they believe is best.
But other affluent corporations mostly haven’t been as visible in leading the way for how large employers should aid in the country’s pandemic response.
Technology companies cannot and should not replace effective government. The collaboration of private industry and the U.S. government was instrumental in the development and delivery of extremely effective vaccines, and it was the federal government’s actions that significantly reduced poverty in America in a time of crisis.
It’s appropriate to worry that tech superpowers and other private companies have too much influence. But in this case, technology companies have been flexing their might to make us all a little safer.