GE, Union Pacific Mandate Covid-19 Vaccine for U.S. Workers – The Wall Street Journal

General Electric Co. GE 0.59% , Union Pacific Corp. UNP -0.08% and other large U.S. employers are imposing Covid-19 vaccine mandates for their workers to comply with a Dec. 8 deadline set by the Biden administration for companies that are federal contractors.

Boeing Co. , International Business Machines Corp. and Raytheon Technologies Corp. are other federal contractors that have already announced Covid-19 vaccine mandates for their U.S. staff. Together with GE and Union Pacific, these companies collectively employ more than 300,000 U.S. workers.

Employees of government contractors are required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 under an executive order signed in September by President Biden. Contractors can request an accommodation for a religious belief or disability, but cannot opt out of the shot through Covid-19 testing. The White House has also said it plans to require companies that employ 100 or more workers to require their employees be vaccinated or undergo regular Covid-19 testing.

While some large companies, such as Walt Disney Co. and meatpacker Tyson FoodsInc., have imposed vaccine mandates, most businesses are awaiting more details in a formal rule that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to issue in coming weeks

GE, which sells jet engines and other equipment to the U.S. military, said all of its roughly 56,000 U.S. workers must be fully vaccinated by the Dec. 8 deadline or have a medical or religious exemption. Like many companies, GE had previously said it was educating and encouraging its workers to get vaccinated but hadn’t taken the step of requiring it.

Union Pacific said it is abiding by the executive order pertaining to federal contractors because the railroad operator ships items like military equipment around the country for the armed services.

“Along with being our best defense against severe Covid-19 illness, vaccines are our best path forward out of the pandemic,” Beth Whited, Union Pacific’s human resources chief, said in a note to staff last week.

Workers must report their vaccination status or have an approved medical or religious accommodation to exempt them. Union Pacific is offering incentives like extra vacation time to nonunion workers and cash payments to unionized workers. Failure to do so will result in discipline including termination for nonunion workers, while unionized workers can be medically disqualified from duty.

Most major U.S. airlines have said they expect to be treated as contractors because of their business with the government, and have announced plans to implement the vaccine requirement with no exceptions, except for those who qualify for accommodations for religious or medical reasons.

Southwest Airlines has told employees that those who receive vaccine accommodations for religious or medical reasons will in most cases be allowed to continue working.

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines Co. told staff in a memo last week that it would no longer put those employees awaiting a decision about a request for an accommodation on unpaid leave, as it had previously planned. The airline also told employees that those who receive the accommodations will in most cases be allowed to continue working.

United Airlines Holdings Inc., which in August was one of the first major employers to require staff get the shots or face termination, is awaiting a court ruling on a lawsuit from a group of employees over the requirement.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has moved to bar Covid-19 vaccine mandates by businesses, setting up a clash between his state and the Biden administration. Some large Texas-based employers, such as Southwest Airlines and American Airlines Group Inc., have said they won’t follow Mr. Abbott’s order.

President Biden unveiled a six-pronged strategy in early September to combat the Delta variant of Covid-19 that ramps up vaccine requirements for employers with 100 or more workers, those in the medical field and federal workers. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Write to Thomas Gryta at thomas.gryta@wsj.com and Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com

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