Traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday may become chaotic this year, as about 40 percent of Transportation Safety Administration workers face potential termination for refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine.
The approximately 24,000 employees have until November 22 – the Monday before Thanksgiving – to get the shot or risk being fired under President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for all federal workers.
‘We have about 60 percent of our workforce has been vaccinated,’ TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN on Wednesday. ‘That number needs to go up quite a bit higher over the next few weeks.’
But in order to meet the deadline, the last possible date for a TSA agent to get a Pfizer vaccine is October 18, and the last day to get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine already passed on October 11, as Pfizer requires a three-week waiting period between doses, and Moderna requires a four-week waiting time.
And the last possible date to get a single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine is November 8 – two weeks before the deadline.
Anyone who has not begun a vaccine regimen by then could face disciplinary action as early as November 9, the Office of Personnel Management announced on October 1, noting that failure to comply with the federal mandate is an act of misconduct.
Approximately 24,000 TSA workers have until November 22 – the Monday before Thanksgiving – to get the COVID vaccine or risk being fired under President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for all federal workers
In order to meet the deadline, they have until October 18 to get their first Pfizer dose or November 8 to get a single Johnson and Johnson vaccine
The office recommended agencies begin to pursue ‘progressive discipline’ by November 9 for any employee who did not begin the vaccination process, according to Federal News Network.
An office official said ‘agencies are encouraged to consider whether lesser disciplinary penalties are adequate, as an initial matter, to encourage an employee to be vaccinated, such as a short suspension of 14 days or less.’
If the unvaccinated federal worker demonstrates at any point during the suspension that they are taking steps to comply with the mandate, though, the OPM says agencies should effectively pause disciplinary action and give them a deadline for receiving a final dose and providing proof of vaccination.
Once they have provided that proof, agencies should stop the disciplinary process.
But if the temporary suspension does not compel the employee to get vaccinated, the OPM recommends agencies consider greater disciplinary measures – including termination.
The office pointed to Mazares v Department of Navy, in which the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the Navy’s decision to fire two civilian employees who refused to get the anthrax vaccine before a deployment on a naval ship to Korea.
The court ruled at the time that the employees’ termination was not excessive as they were fired because they failed to obey a direct order from a supervisor.
In the interview with CNN, Pekoske said he is ‘very hopeful’ that the agency’s employees can meet the deadline, and there will not be worker shortages.
Still, he said: ‘We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that.’
He said he has been holding employee town halls to encourage TSA workers to get the vaccine so they will not be fired.
In total, the agency reports, more than 10,000 employees have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 30 deaths associated with COVID.
There are now 335 employees currently on leave with the virus.
Nationwide, the CDC says the rate of transmission remains high, even as there were only 84,086 new cases reported nationwide on October 12, with 1,252 deaths.
About 65.6 percent of all Americans have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine as of Wednesday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, and 56.6 percent are fully vaccinated
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said he has been holding employee town halls to encourage TSA workers, like the screener seen here, to get the vaccine so they will not be fired
In total, the agency reports , more than 10,000 employees have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 30 deaths associated with COVID
Pekoske also said he has contingency plans in place to avoid long lines at the TSA screening checkpoints over the holiday season
Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC on Tuesday he believes businesses should not impose COVID vaccine mandates on their employers.
‘I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of mandate,’ he said. ‘I’m not in favor of that, never have been.
‘But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines have to have a mandate in place by December 8, so we’re working through that.’
He said the week before, that 56,000 employees still had to be vaccinated in accordance with the mandate.
The announcement came just a few days after Southwest Airlines had to cancel almost 2,000 flights over the weekend.
Mike Van de Ven, the president of the airline, told employees in a video on Sunday that staffing shortages were to blame.
The airline, meanwhile, initially told the public that air traffic control issues in Florida caused the problem, but the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) then issued a statement saying there were problems for a few hours on Friday, but not at the weekend.
Furious passengers said that they were told in airports that the cancellations were due to Southwest employees walking out in protest at the airline’s decision to enforce COVID-19 vaccinations.
But the airline said that that was not the case, and said poor weather in Jacksonville, Florida, sparked a knock-on effect.
‘Southwest Airlines extends a tremendous apology to our Customers and Employees for the flight cancellations and delays which occurred over the weekend and on Monday,’ the airline said.
‘On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday.
‘Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday.
‘Southwest Teams have been working diligently to restore stability to the network, and we are experiencing less disruptions on Monday. We hope to restore our full schedule as soon as possible.
‘As a note, the operational challenges were not a result of Southwest Employee demonstrations.’
The announcement comes just a few days after Southwest Airlines had to cancel almost 2,000 flights over the weekend
A passenger at Orlando International Airport shared a picture of four children sleeping on the floor due to flight cancellations
The Dallas-based airline was the only airline to report such large-scale issues over the weekend, and customers accused Southwest of not being honest with them about the delays.
The airline canceled about 360 more flights Monday and delayed 970 others.
Long lines of stranded passengers formed inside the Southwest terminal at Denver International Airport before dawn on Monday.
The scenes were similar to those from August, when frustrated passengers were left stranded at airports after Spirit and American Airlines canceled more than 670 flights over the course of three days.
‘You’re clearly lying to your customers. Acknowledge the pilots union striking is the main reason for cancellations. Southwest customer service has been spiraling downward dramatically the past year,’ said one man.
‘Strange how the ATC issues and weather are still only affecting your airline at MCO,’ said another angry passenger.
‘Must be some crazy storms if they’re only targeting your planes.’
A third tweeted: ‘Keep lying when your staff at Midway specifically told us it was because the Pilots went on strike, because of your vaccine mandate.
‘Now we missed a wedding and out luggage is stuck at midway with mine and my wife’s medication.’
Another woman wrote: ‘This is absolutely horrible! Your lack of compassion & resolution is appalling! My sister has been left stranded in Atlanta while traveling en route to my Wedding scheduled for tomorrow.
‘I am now driving round trip from FL to ATL on the EVE of my wedding!!’
But the Federal Aviation Administration denied reports of a ‘mass sickout’ at the air traffic control center at Jacksonville International Airport, which was said to have affected Southwest.
Also, in a statement to DailyMail.com, the FAA said: ‘No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.
‘Flight delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday afternoon due to widespread severe weather, military training, and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center.
‘Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.
Van de Ven told workers the airline was working to develop a plan to address several shortcomings, including tight staffing on weekends as well as chronic delays and cancellations, according to The Wall Street Journal.
He said that Southwest ‘already made significant reductions from our previously published November and December schedules, and if we think we need to do more, we will.’