Boeing Will Require All Employees to Be Vaccinated, Despite Wary Labor Unions and Conservative Opposition

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Boeing management told its U.S. employees in an internal message Tuesday that with limited exceptions they must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8 or face termination.

"Compliance with these requirements is a condition of employment," states a Boeing internal presentation viewed by The Seattle Times. "Employees who are unable to meet these requirements, and do not have an approved accommodation, by December 8 may be released from the company."

The policy will apply to roughly 125,000 employees in the U.S.,  about 57,000 of them  in Washington state.

Employees can request an exemption "due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief," but those granted such an exemption will have to "undergo frequent testing for COVID-19" and be ready to present a negative test result upon request, the company said.

In an internal labor-relations presentation on its decision, Boeing noted that the move is necessary to ensure compliance with President Joe Biden's executive orders in September that mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all employees of the federal government as well as companies that are contractors and subcontractors of the government.

The terms of the government orders essentially make vaccinations mandatory across the entire aviation industry, from the big defense contractors, to the jet manufacturers, to the major airlines, to the subcontractors who work with those companies.

Many of the biggest businesses across America have already done so, including Walmart and Ford; tech giants Microsoft, Google, and Facebook; and locally, Alaska Airlines.

Amazon, the largest employer in the state, has not yet announced a vaccine mandate. However, as a federal contractor, it will likely have to do so.

A number of local Boeing workers are firmly opposed to vaccination, though it's unclear how many. The company declined to provide information on its employee vaccination rate.

Tuesday afternoon, one veteran mechanic in Renton, who asked not to be named since he spoke without company authorization, said he was vaccinated months ago and that there are few holdouts around him at work.

He said he doubts that many employees will be willing to lose the Boeing paycheck — he makes $46 an hour — over the vaccination issue.

Another employee, a maintenance worker at the Everett widebody jet plant, said he had a mild bout of COVID-19 early in the pandemic and feels that offers him some natural immunity.

He said he's careful with social distancing and triple-masks, but hasn't had the shots and is ambivalent about the vaccine.

"I don't know just yet," the maintenance worker said. "It's something I would have to take a further look at with my physician."

As for the new mandate, he said, "I'll assess the situation in more detail as soon as I can."

Those still uncertain about the vaccine don't have a lot of time. Stating that "employees must take action soon," the company laid out deadlines for the various shots: Moderna: First dose by Oct. 27; Pfizer: First dose by Nov. 3; J&J: Single dose by Nov. 24.

Jon Holden, president of International Association of Machinists District 751, wrote in the October issue of the union paper that "the reality is our members are polarized on this issue."

"It is our responsibility to defend and advocate for all our members," Holden added. And though he noted that he and his family are vaccinated, he said the union must also defend "those who can't or won't accept the vaccine."

Holden said he expects an "uphill battle" bargaining with management on the issue, but the union will stand up for "medical and religious exemptions," and that "if an exemption request is denied, we will investigate each on a case-by-case basis."

Boeing may face more resistance to the new policy in some Republican-controlled states such as Texas that are actively opposing Biden's mandate orders.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines.

Boeing has more than 5,000 employees in Texas. It has about 32,000 more at facilities in Alabama, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina — all conservative states with varying levels of resistance to mandatory vaccination.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, both based in Texas, are among the major airlines that have introduced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The white-collar union at Boeing, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said in a statement Tuesday, "We are encouraged that the vast majority of members we are hearing from are vaccinated."

Yet like the Machinists union, SPEEA added that, if requested, it will offer help to anyone seeking an exemption.

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