Twenty-one Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday saying they think his COVID-19 vaccination mandate for federal contractors “stands on shaky legal ground," is confusing to contractors and could exacerbate supply-chain problems.
They wrote that companies could be blacklisted for federal contracts unless they get their workers vaccinated on “an unworkable timeline.”
“We strongly urge you to instruct agencies to cease implementing the mandate or, at a minimum, to provide clarity to agencies and federal contractors across the country and delay the mandate’s compliance date,” said the letter signed by attorneys general from Texas, Mississippi, Alaska and other states.
Republican officials have already threatened to sue over the order that Biden issued Sept. 9. Some legal experts have said they think the Biden administration is on strong legal footing with the mandates to protect public safety.
The administration is expected to release details soon about implementing the mandate. Biden has said companies with at least 100 employees will have to require all their employees be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The mandate for federal contractors goes into effect in December, and it does not have a testing option.
Many businesses, governments and schools are already setting COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
Employees of some federal contractors — including at a shipbuilder and a NASA rocket engine test site in Mississippi — have been protesting what they see as federal overreach into private lives.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in a news release Wednesday that vaccination should be an individual decision.
“Forcing people to vaccinate or lose their jobs is a flawed premise ... and the mismanaged execution of that idea demonstrates how utterly unworkable it is as a national policy,” Fitch said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Oct. 11 to bar private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday directed the state's executive-branch agencies not to cooperate with the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, where possible.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration said Wednesday that the vaccination deadline will not require immediate action on the part of employers against unvaccinated employees when it comes into force on Dec. 8.
Some lawyers previously interpreted President Joe Biden's Sept. 9 executive order and subsequent White House guidance requiring all covered federal contractor employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 unless they got a religious or medical exemption.
The White House comments suggest federal contractors employing millions of U.S. workers have significant flexibility in enforcing COVID-19 rules and will not be required to immediate lay-off workers, but will have time for education, counseling and other measures before potentially ending employment.
Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said he expects federal agencies and contractors "will follow their standard HR processes and that for any of the probably relatively small percent of employees that are not in compliance they'll go through education, counseling, accommodations and then enforcement."
Zients said he does not expect any disruptions to the U.S. economy as a result of the mandate.
"We’re creating flexibility within the system … There is not a cliff here," Zients said, emphasizing the goal is to get people vaccinated "not to punish them so we do not expect any disruptions."
He added: "These processes play out across weeks not days."
His comments were more explicit than those last week.
Zients also said a new emergency measure will soon be finalized to ensure private sector workers at companies with 100 or more employees are fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 at least weekly.
American Airlines and Southwest Airlines said last Thursday they did not think the Dec. 8 deadline would impact holiday travel or result in employees leaving.
Some airlines and industry-watchers initially feared an exodus of unvaccinated airline or government employees involved in travel just before the Christmas season.
Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly said last week: "We want our employees to know that nobody is going to lose their job on December 9 if we're not perfectly in compliance... "We're not going to fire anybody who doesn't get vaccinated."
American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said last week he did not expect any employees to leave as a result of the vaccine mandate.
A group representing FedEx Corp, United Parcel Service Inc and other cargo carriers told the White House last week it would be virtually impossible to have 100% of their respective work forces vaccinated by Dec. 8.
Many federal contractors have told employees that they risk losing their jobs if they are not vaccinated by Dec. 8. Raytheon Technologies' (RTX.N) Chief Executive Greg Hayes warned in a CNBC interview Tuesday the U.S. aerospace and defense firm will lose 'several thousand' employees who refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines, as it prepares to meet the Dec. 8 deadline.
Republican Senator Roger Wicker on Wednesday urged Biden to abandon the plan, saying "we cannot afford to gut our transportation network of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of essential, good-paying jobs."
Material from the Associated Press and Reuters news service was used in this story.
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