Biden’s vaccine mandate has cargo giants in a pre-holiday panic

The deadline has been hailed by public health officials as a way of increasing vaccination rates as the country continues to struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic. But business groups and conservatives have warned that it could have damaging economic impacts. The deadline brushes right up against the peak holiday season and as some of the biggest cargo distribution companies, including UPS and FedEx, are already battling unprecedented labor shortages.

In comments Alterman submitted to the Department of Transportation, he noted, “the looming December 8 mandate for having fully vaccinat[ed] workforces creates a significant supply chain problem.”

Some of the members of the Cargo association include FedEx, UPS, DHL Express and Atlas Air, which runs cargo flights for Amazon. Alterman noted that many of these cargo carriers are helping move vital medical supplies — including vaccines to combat the ongoing pandemic.

“This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that we are already experiencing a worker shortage, both in the air and on the ground, and any loss of employees who refuse to be vaccinated will adversely impact needed operations,” he wrote.

For weeks, industry officials have held talks with the administration over the Dec. 8 deadline and vaccine requirements, including communicating the various attempts to hold vaccine drives for workers and better educate them on the benefits of the vaccine. But, they relayed, they faced significant difficulties meeting the tight deadline, two sources familiar with the discussions said.

One of the sources noted that the convergence of the holiday season, the quick turnaround on the deadline and a worker shortage amid some vaccine resistance created “a perfect storm” for contractors involved in the delivery business.

They believed it was nearly impossible to meet the federal requirement and relayed that their legal departments were still assessing how to implement the order.

“We are reviewing the Executive Order and what it means for UPS and our people,” said Kara Ross, UPS spokesperson. “We’re urging all of our employees to get vaccinated. Vaccination remains the best way for our employees, communities and company to stay healthy and strong.”

A FedEx representative acknowledged on Thursday it was “engaged with the relevant government agencies,” about the Dec. 8 deadline.

“The health and safety of our FedEx team members continues to be our top priority. We strongly encourage team members to get vaccinated and continue to communicate on the importance and access to Covid-19 vaccines,” Chris Allen, a FedEx Global spokesperson said in a statement.

The Biden administration has increasingly used the concept of vaccine mandates as a tool to try and fight the pandemic. In September, the president imposed the restrictions on federal workers and contractors but also issued an order dictating that the owners of private businesses that employ more than 100 people to mandate the vaccine. Those private businesses, however, are able to offer an opt-out for employees who submit to frequent testing and who take safety precautions, like wearing masks. Airline pilots for some commercial carriers have for some time also chafed against the Dec. 8 mandate, in particular unionized pilots for Southwest Airlines, which have sued over the issue.

The White House this week insisted there would be no disruption to critical services during the holiday season because of those who don’t comply with the mandate by the deadline.

At a recent news conference, Jeff Zients, who heads the White House’s Covid task force said those who aren’t vaccinated by a given deadline wouldn’t lose their job but would first enter “a period of education and counseling.”

“It’s important to remember this is a process and the point here is to get people vaccinated, not to — not to punish them,” Zients said. “So, agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they’ve gone through a process of education and counseling. And just like federal agencies, contractors will follow standard processes for accommodations and enforcement among their employees.”

Zients continued, “The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on.”

In his comments submitted to the DOJ, however, Alterman said that hundreds of thousands of short-term workers had yet to be hired to help assist in the holiday workload.

“We therefore request that the Administration take steps to recognize this problem and to delay implementation of the vaccine mandate into 2022,” Alterman wrote.

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