Business

American and Southwest Airlines Reject Texas Mandate Ban

Posted October 12, 2021 10:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2021 11:45 a.m. EDT

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, citing federal requirements, said Tuesday that they would not comply with an order from the governor of Texas barring private employers from mandating coronavirus vaccines in the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a strong opponent of vaccine mandates, issued the order Monday, saying inoculation against COVID-19 should “always be voluntary for Texans.”

“We believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” said a spokeswoman for the airline, which is based in Fort Worth. Southwest, which is based in Dallas, said it would “remain compliant” with the federal mandate.

The Greater Houston Partnership, a business group that counts Exxon Mobil, Chevron and JPMorgan Chase as members, also came out Tuesday against Abbott’s order, saying it “does not support Texas businesses’ ability and duty to create a safe workplace.”

President Joe Biden announced last month that federal contractors and their employees would need to be vaccinated, with limited exceptions. Like other major employers, American and Southwest cited that requirement and their status as contractors in announcing that employees must be vaccinated.

Biden also announced that workers at companies with more than 100 employees would have to be vaccinated or tested regularly, but those requirements are dependent on new rules that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not issued yet. That requirement will cover tens of millions of workers, the administration said. Health care workers at institutions that receive funding from Medicaid and Medicare are also required to be vaccinated.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, accused Abbott on Tuesday of putting “politics ahead of public health” and said federal laws superseded state and local ones.

The administration will continue to pursue the expansive mandates it announced last month, she said, adding that business leaders who had already introduced mandates had reported positive results.

“Beyond the legal aspect, which is unquestionable in our view, the question for any business leader is: What do you want to do to save more lives in your companies?” Psaki said.

A spokeswoman for Abbott said that the Biden administration had “left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees” and that the governor’s order was “enforceable by state and local law enforcement.”

Late Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas issued a temporary restraining order telling United Airlines not to place on unpaid leave any employee who had been granted a vaccine exemption. The court’s order said it was not ruling on any merits of the case, but was allowing for more time to consider a preliminary injunction. The order is in place until Oct. 26.

In Florida, another state with a governor who has battled vaccine mandates, the Department of Health issued a notice of violation to Leon County, which encompasses Tallahassee, for violating a ban on “vaccine passports” in the state.

The department said in a release Tuesday that it was fining the county nearly $3.6 million for requiring 700 government employees to provide their vaccine status and firing 14 who refused to comply. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wanted to “preserve the ability of Floridians to make their own decisions regarding what shots to take.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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