Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who have both said that they received COVID-19 vaccines, are decrying the Biden administration’s Sept. 9 mandate in Executive Order 14042 that all defense contractor personnel without religious or health exemptions be vaccinated by Dec. 8.
Both senators, who are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), have said that the mandate could lead to the departure of thousands of defense industry workers.
Tuberville’s and Blackburn’s contentions seem to find some soil. For example, Greg Hayes, the CEO of the 125,000 worker Raytheon Technologies [RTX], said this week in an interview with CNBC that Raytheon “will lose several thousand people” who have refused to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Hayes and Northrop Grumman [NOC] CEO Kathy Warden have said that hiring is underway at their companies to try to alleviate any shortfall.
For its part, Lockheed Martin [LMT] said that double dose COVID-19 vaccines have gone in the arms of more than 69 percent of the company’s employees–the national average for adults over 18.
In an Oct. 26 letter to President Biden, Tuberville wrote that “your order inappropriately removes doctors from an important health care decision for thousands of Americans and effectively forces certain employees to choose between taking a novel vaccine they do not want or continuing to support our men and women in uniform.”
“That is a false and unnecessary choice,” Tuberville wrote.
Rather than the defense giants, Tuberville appears to be more concerned about the possible impact of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate at small defense firms.
“In 2020, more than 98,000 federal contracts of all types were awarded to contractors in my state of Alabama, which is home to more than 5,000 contractors who support the Department of Defense,” Tuberville wrote in his Oct. 26 letter to Biden. “Many of these firms are small, employing fewer than 100 workers but hiring a disproportionately high share of veterans. Together, they provide capabilities to the Pentagon that are often difficult to replicate. Losing any sizable share of a small firms’ workforce means a direct reduction in the ‘economy and efficiency’ that your order purports to seek to advance. When these firms are unable to perform, our country is at risk.”
Tuberville urged Biden to “pursue a holistic strategy that emphasizes commonsense workplace safety policies, regular COVID-19 testing, vaccines for people who want them, easy to access antibody treatments, and the continued evaluation and approval of new pharmaceutical treatments.”
“Mandates are not the answer; frank conversations between doctors and patients are,” Tuberville wrote. “I urge you to reverse course on the mandate for defense contractors to avoid foreseeable negative impacts on our national security.”
This week, Blackburn introduced the Keeping Our COVID-19 Heroes Employed Act, which would remove the mandate for defense contractors. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tuberville, Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) have co-sponsored the legislation.
Arnold Punaro, the chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), wrote in a message to members last week that NDIA had asked the Biden administration “for flexibility (testing in lieu of vaccines, remote work, etc.) to be included in the policy along with clear, consistent guidance.” (Defense Daily, Oct. 25).
“Additionally, we noted that with any loss of personnel, there are going to be impacts on contract execution; so, we’ve asked for explicit guidance from contracting officers for equitable adjustments,” Punaro wrote.