Vans Employees Protest Vaccine Mandate

A small group at the sneaker brand's California HQ staged a protest against its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Here's Vans' vaccination policy and the response.

Vans' global headquarters in Costa Mesa, California

Vans' global headquarters in Costa Mesa, California. Image via Vans

Vans' global headquarters in Costa Mesa, California

A small group of employees at Vans’ global headquarters in Costa Mesa, California, are protesting a company vaccine mandate, saying their employer shouldn’t be forcing them to take a coronavirus vaccine. A source at the brand estimates around 30 people are participating in the protest. At the Vans campus in California, they’ve laid out empty sneakers in a courtyard, attaching notes to them explaining their rationale.

“Nobody should be forced to decide between getting a shot that doesn’t work and feeding their family,” reads one handwritten letter. “You have loyal employees—we don’t deserve this.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines show that they do work, reducing the risk of severe illness by 90 percent in people who are fully vaccinated.

Images from the protest were shared on Instagram on Wednesday by Josh Harmony, a former pro skater who now works for Vans. According to his LinkedIn profile, Harmony has been employed at Vans since November 2019 as a wholesale marketing coordinator.

“I personally am not against vaccines but whether you are vaccinated for the rona or not, these mandates and vaccine passports should concern everyone,” Harmony wrote in his post. “The loss of medical autonomy is a slippery slope.”

Harmony did not respond to a request for comment. In one Instagram photo, he appears next to Johnny Layton, another former pro now employed by Vans. In the photo, Layton is holding a sign that reads, “Dear Vans, please don’t participate in discrimination. Please respect the medical and religious rights of your employees.”

VF Corporation, which owns Vans, sent out an email to its employees in the US on Oct. 18 explaining a new set of rules around mandated vaccination. The email, which was viewed by Complex, introduces a new phase of COVID-19 vaccine protocols requiring vaccination by Jan. 1, 2022, for all office-based employees, employees who travel to company events, salaried distribution center and operational service center employees, and any new hires in those groups. The protocol also requires that visitors, vendors, contractors, and consultants visiting VFC facilities show proof of vaccination.

The email explaining the mandate has specific language allowing religious and medical exemptions.

“Associates who are unable to receive a vaccine due to a medical reason, sincerely held religious belief, or other exemption provided by state or local law can request an accommodation/exemption by no later than November 30, 2021 to ensure the January 1, 2022 deadline is met,” it reads.

The email says that those with exemptions will likely still have to wear N-95 or equivalent masks when in VFC facilities and undergo periodic testing for COVID-19. It also instructs unvaccinated associates who don’t plan on filing for an exemption to inform the company.

Employees who don’t have an approved exemption by Jan. 1 of next year will be required to work from home that month, the email says. By Jan. 31, 2022, any associate who is not fully vaccinated or doesn’t have an approved exemption will be separated from the company without severance pay.

The protest at Vans began on Dec. 1, the day after the deadline for employees to request exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

“The 30th was the deadline to submit the form for requesting exemption on medical or religious grounds,” said one employee who works at the Costa Mesa headquarters and asked to remain anonymous. “These jokers had over a month to fill that stuff out, and then protest the next day that they have no choice in the matter? They did. And they missed their opportunity.”

A message from a Vans employee protesting the company's coronavirus vaccine mandate

Vans says that while it backs employees’ right to express their views, it’s standing firm on the mandate.

“As a people-focused company grounded in enabling creative self-expression, we fully support members of our Vans Family speaking out on topics that are important to them,” Vans said in a statement to Complex. “That said, our vaccine requirement for US based employees remains in place as we continue to take the necessary steps to ensure the safest possible environment for all of our associates as we resume in-person collaboration and work in our facilities.”

Harmony, the former pro skater, is not the only person associated with Vans posting about the protest on social media. A man identifying himself as Joseph Anthony Colon, using the Instagram handle @freesince.1776, has on his page a 32-minute video from Nov. 29 addressing vaccine mandates.

He speaks in general terms, omitting the name of the company he’s addressing for what he says are “privacy and legal purposes,” but his Instagram Stories feature videos from the protest, and a source at Vans has identified him as a security guard who works on the company’s campus. In his half-hour long video, Colon says that he is a security guard but is not actually employed by “said company.”

He purposefully omits what he calls the “v word” in the video, presumably a reference to his content being flagged if he outwardly mentions vaccinations, and instead uses the word “blank” throughout as a substitute.

“I understand the need to create a safe work environment for all employees and personnel who are anticipated to return next year,” Colon says in the video. “However, coercing your employees to choose between taking a mandatory ‘blank’ to remain hired or risk facing separation from the company, termination without compensation, and destroying families’ livelihoods disregards your employees’ freedoms, liberties, and ability to make their own personal decisions.”

His video also references a planned event for Wednesday, the same day the protest began at Vans.

Colon did not respond to a request for comment.

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