Union Pacific has to navigate vaccine rollout in 23 different states

‘In every state, the process to get a vaccine into an arm is different,’ says CEO Lance Fritz

By David Earl for ketv.com

Critical workers at one of the nation’s largest railroads have started to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations. Union Pacific touted the effort in a social media post in early March.

But the Omaha-based company’s chief executive says the effort to get the vaccine for his workers hasn’t been easy. Advertisement

“We serve 23 western states, and in every state the process to get a vaccine into an arm is different,” said Lance Fritz in a KETV NewsWatch 7 interview. “We’re working with county health officials in every single one of our communities to make sure that UP employees, railroad employees, are prioritized appropriately.”

The railroad is offering incentives and perks to employees who choose to get the vaccine, in an effort to get as much participation as possible.

Fritz hailed the American medical research and innovation of Operation Warp Speed that brought three FDA-approved vaccines to market in record time.

But getting them into arms?

“Maybe we would have been a little better prepared if we had thought more critically about that as a nation,” Fritz said. “The issue now is we’ve learned, and next time around I do think a more coordinated approach to vaccine distribution and getting the vaccine into the arms of U.S. citizens would benefit all of us.”

As for the economic outlook, the Fortune 500 boss thinks the U.S. will have a “very robust” recovery, though he declined to speculate on when it will begin in earnest or how long it will take.

He’s watching the money supply (up $4 trillion in a year) and personal savings rate of U.S. consumers (now more than $2 trillion) as indicators.

“That’s a ton of dry powder that once consumers are allowed to get back out and the economy opens back up is going to be put to use,” Fritz said.

Railroads are seen as economic bellwethers, and Union Pacific saw the immediate impacts of public health lockdowns at the start of the pandemic. Shipping volumes have since bounced back, but the chief executive is trying to figure out if the railroad stands to benefit further as consumers climb out of an economic hole.

For Union Pacific, it’s a question of goods or services.

“We thrive when the goods economy is rolling, when there’s good trade when industrial production is up and when consumers are buying things like houses and cars,” Fritz said. “And it doesn’t really impact us that much, if instead, that money is spent on restaurants and bar tabs and movies and travel.”

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November 2023