Christina Marks TSA

GOOD AT PREVENTING SHOTS: Transportation Security Administration Officer Christina Marks, who this year detected five guns in carry-on bags moving through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas, was among the agency employees facing a Nov. 22 deadline to get inoculated against the coronavirus or be suspended.

The union which represents the nation’s tens of thousands of Transportation Security Administration airline screeners has asked the Biden administration to extend the Nov. 22 deadline for all Federal workers to be vaccinated to correspond with the Jan. 18 deadline it imposed for Federal contractors.

The Nov. 9 letter from the Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, came a few weeks after TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN that 40 percent of his agency’s workforce was still unvaccinated, even as the holiday travel crunch approached. The agency more recently said 60 percent of its workforce had gotten at least one shot.

Virus No Stopping Them

The TSA is braced for heavy holiday travel even as an uptick in coronavirus infections has been reported in 30 states. While death rates have dropped, the number of hospitalizations has remained constant. To date, 765,000 Americans have died from the virus, with 47 million infections reported.

On Sept. 9, President Biden issued an executive order stating that “to promote the health and safety of the Federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service, it is necessary to require COVID-19 vaccination for all Federal employees, subject to such exceptions as required by law.”

“As you know, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has issued and amended varying deadlines for federal contractors to be in compliance with vaccine mandates, now set at January 4, 2022,” Mr. Kelley wrote administration officials. "This double standard has caused confusion and distress among federal employees due to disparate treatment and incongruent deadlines for people who perform the government’s work in the same settings.”

He continued, “It is inexcusable that contractors are being given the entire holiday season to meet the mandates, while federal employees continue to be subject to the November 22 deadline. The effect upon morale of federal employees being subject to possible discipline at this time of year cannot be overstated. The Transportation Security Officers at the Transportation Security Administration are especially affected and dismayed..."

Prisoners of Gov

The AFGE leader added that Federal Corrections Officers were also “understandably chagrined by the fact that inmates face no mandate while they must comply by November 22 or face termination.”

Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended the deadline for the private sector’s federal contractors to Jan. 18. An email to TSA public affairs on the status of its workforce did not get a response by press time.

AFGE has been an enthusiastic booster of the nation’s COVID vaccination program, and has used social media to promote compliance by its members, stating, “the president has broad constitutional authority, recognized within the relevant statutes governing federal employee rights, to set conditions of employment that are not in conflict with any specific legal prohibitions. A vaccine mandate does not run afoul of any such prohibitions.”

The union cited past cases involving two civilian employees who were ordered to take an anthrax vaccine, refused, and “were removed from federal service, and their removal was upheld by the MSPB [Merit Service Protections Board] and the Federal Circuit Court.”

'Private' Mandate Challenged  

A parallel Biden initiative to promote vaccine compliance for private sector employers with 100 or more employees is being administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and offers a vaccine or regular testing option. That measure was quickly challenged in the courts by a coalition of 19 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The deadline for OSHA’s private-sector vaccine-or-be-tested mandate implementation is Jan. 4.

On Nov. 18, OSHA halted that roll-out after a court in the 5th U.S. Circuit in New Orleans issued an emergency stay ordering the agency to suspend implementation until the case was decided.

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