The federal government issued a requirement for all employees to be vaccinated or seek an exemption by the start of Thanksgiving week, but 40% of TSA workers remain unvaccinated putting travelers and the federal government on a collision course.
Federal Employee Vaccination Date Looms
On September 9th, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order detailing federal vaccine mandates that would require all federal employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or seek an exemption by Monday, November 22nd, 2021.
White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki answered a question from the press pool about the federal mandate and falling short of the requirements:
“Q […] And then if I could, the vaccine mandate for the civilian federal workforce is set to take effect on Monday. Can you provide us an update on what the implementation is going to be like? And are there any concerns about possibly having staffing shortages because of that?
MS. PSAKI: There are not. Let me give you just an update on this overall — again, for people who haven’t been paying as close attention. So, November 22nd is the deadline — not 12:01 a.m. that morning, but by the end of the day. But we don’t see it as a cliff. We’ll be providing more guidance in days to come.
We are the largest employer in the country. So it is — the U.S. government that is, of course — so it’s going to take some time to collect the data, even as it comes in that day. And once we have gone through the data and have that, we will share that with all of you publicly.
But especially as we know, we will — what we have seen is there is a surge in attestations and vaccination as we get closer to the deadline, which is certainly encouraging. But we want to have the final data Monday, through the day, before we release that publicly. It’s going to take a little bit of time to process.
But, no, we do not anticipate facing any governmental operational disruptions due to this requirement. And, in fact, the requirement will avoid disruptions, in our view, in our labor force because vaccinations help avoid COVID.”
The White House is indicating it does not see any potential disruption due to this vaccination requirement and has no intention to move the date.
Up To 40% of TSA Staff Unvaccinated
Reports have emerged that up to 40% of Transportation Security Administration staff is unvaccinated as of Friday, November 19th, 2021. More than any other sector of the federal government, the TSA will be the agency that millions of Americans interact with primarily this week ahead of the busiest travel week since 2019, and by some estimates, ever. The “four in ten” projection comes from a federal union estimate but not confirmed numbers. It could be higher or lower.
President Biden’s executive order could have pushed the date or indicated that it only required one shot of the two-shot options and rather than being fully-vaccinated, a partial vaccination status would suffice. They’ve not done that. Rather, the only wavering the Biden Administration has shown is that it will complete its accounting at the end of Monday and not the start of Monday, a semantics shift that is unlikely to produce a meaningful difference.
Some 22 airports as of 2019 had opted out of TSA screeners for airport security, but San Francisco and San Jose, California – two of the private contractor operated airports – are likely to face their own requirements not due to federal law, but rather due to their employer and state mandates.
When the President signed his executive order, he no doubt chose this date to ensure that workers would be ready for the busy Thanksgiving travel week. It gave two and a half months for employees to get vaccinated before the mandate took effect. With just one day left, even the biggest push would leave many outside of the requirement.
The President also issued an executive order requiring that private sector businesses with 100 or more employees vaccinate their staff or submit for weekly testing at a cost to the business owners or their staff directly. President Biden tasked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with executing this directive under the auspices that COVID was an occupational risk.
The same mandate also applies to health care facilities that service medicare and medicaid patients, under the department of Health and Human Services. Just shy of one-third of health care workers remain unvaccinated, closely parralleling the overall US vaccination rate.
Unlike the federal employee version, the compliance date for the private sector mandate has slid and now, following lawsuits filed by some 26 states, is on ice for the time being.
Hydrick Thomas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ division representing front-line airport security officers, is less worried about enforcement of the mandate this week and instead is more concerned about the following travel period ahead of Christmas
“They are not going to be ready for Christmas if they get rid of everybody who chooses not to get vaccinated,” Thomas said. “If they don’t accommodate employees during these holidays coming upon us, we are going to have an issue with the screening process.”
If, however, Press Secretary Psaki’s indication that the requirement will remain in place and will be enforced, already short staffed checkpoints could face unprecedented crowds with dramatically fewer staff members. That puts travelers, nay, the American public between workers who have declined the shot for whatever reason and the federal government.
The two are on a collision course of resolve.
The federal government has set and maintained a date for all federal workers to become fully vaccinated, seek an exemption, or face termination. An estimated 40% of TSA workers remain unvaccinated ahead of what could be the busiest week for travel ever in the United States. Unvaccinated TSA workers and the federal government are on a collision course this week with the traveling public in the crosshairs. It’s unclear at this time, which party will blink first.
What do you think? Will the mandate stand? Will there be a surge in TSA workers who seek vaccination either before or shortly after the mandate deadline?