The 25,000 employees at Newport News Shipbuilding had initially been told they had to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to WRIC-TV.
But that all changed last week, after Mike Petters, CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, told workers that the Jan. 4 deadline it imposed has been suspended, according to WTKR-TV.
Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency rule that codified President Joe Biden’s plan to require all employers with 100 or more workers to have a vaccinate mandate in place. A coalition of states and private sector individuals sued. A federal court banned the rule from taking effect, and OSHA then suspended action under the rule.
Bob Nichols of the Houston-based law firm Bracewell LLP noted in a recent interview with The Business Journals newspaper chain that court rulings have left many employers uncertain of how to proceed.
“The most troubling aspect of this situation for businesses is that they face a great deal of work to come into compliance with this rule, and it is not even certain that the federal courts will allow the rule to take effect,” Nichols said. “For busy companies, the thought of putting a great deal of effort into a program that may ultimately not be necessary is very troubling.”
In a letter to employees, Peters said HII “proceeded in good faith during this time to require vaccination of our workforce, to protect their health and safety and in so doing also protect our ability to serve our national security customers without disruption. We have not wanted to lose a single employee to the virus, or to the effect of the mandate.”
“Importantly, with respect to Ingalls Shipbuilding and Newport News Shipbuilding, our customer has confirmed that our contracts do not include a requirement to implement the mandate,” he wrote.
Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding, offered more details in a Facebook post saying that “after considerable work with the Navy to meet the intent of the mandate, our Navy contracts with Newport News Shipbuilding do not include a vaccine mandate requirement at this time.”
“This recent information is different from what we understood to be the government’s and the Navy’s intent. As a result of what we know today, some of the related mandate policies and processes will now change. Because employee safety continues to be our top priority, other COVID-related policies will not change,” she said.
Boykin said that employees who said they would quit or retire due to the mandate can now reverse that decision and that the company would contact those seeking religious or medical exemptions.
She noted that mask requirements and limitations on allowable social events will continue to avoid spreading the virus.
Boykin said employees might be asked to make more changes.
“I want everyone to know that we have aggressively pushed for clarity around the intent and administration of this mandate to provide our employees with the most accurate and up to date information. This guidance continues to evolve and is subject to further change,” she wrote.
On October 15, workers had protested the mandate.
“I’m prepared to lose my job for this,” said Shayne Giacobi, a welder, according to WTKR.