Austal USA in Mobile put just less than 200 employees on unpaid administrative leave on Wednesday, Oct. 27, for failing to provide proof of vaccination.
The Austal shipyard handles federal defense contracts and is subject to President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating vaccination for federal workers and contractors. The order requires that these parties comply by Dec. 8.
The company, which has been operating in Mobile since 1999, has capitalized on two Navy defense contracts to build Independence variant littoral combat ships and expeditionary fast transport vessels. The company has announced previously that they are bidding on a contract with the U.S. Coast Guard to build its Offshore Patrol Cutter which is expected to be awarded in January 2021.
With roughly 3,300 employees, this means that about 94% of the company’s workers provided proof of vaccination before Wednesday. As of Oct. 29, only one employee had a confirmed case of COVID-19.
A message released in Austal’s employee communications on Friday said, “Austal understands that the decision to vaccinate or not is a deeply personal decision and respects every contractor’s decision in that regard, whatever it may be. To that end, Austal understands that some contractors may choose not to get vaccinated, while others still remain uncertain as to whether to get vaccinated.”
The unpaid administrative leave gives time for Austal employees to comply with the requirement. Monday, Nov. 1, is the hard deadline and employees will be terminated at that point. Terminated Austal employees due to the mandate will maintain good standing with the company and will immediately be eligible for rehire consideration if they satisfy the legal requirements for mandatory vaccination.
Austal hosted on-site vaccination clinics on Tuesday, Oct. 26, and Wednesday, Oct. 27, in collaboration with the Mobile County Department of Public Health where they offered all three types of COVID-19 vaccines. Employees were instructed to get the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson during this probationary period. The Moderna vaccination is not an option due to the length of time required between the two Moderna shots. Proof of a complete vaccine series for a two-shot vaccine is required by Nov. 24.
“Regardless of your decision, Austal appreciates everything you do each day in support of our national defense and our U.S. military men and women. Austal hopes that you stay safe and healthy, and if you are moving on from Austal, we wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors,” Austal told employees.
The company told employees in the weeks ahead of the deadline that they could apply for medical and religious exemptions. Company officials stated that an employee with “a disability, a pregnant employee, an employee who is a nursing mother, or who has a qualifying medical condition that prevents him or her from receiving a COVID-19 vaccination” could qualify, and those who had sincerely-held religious beliefs. The company said approval of exemptions was subject to specific legal requirements. It is unclear how many employees applied for or were granted an exemption.
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