Union complains of 'double standard' for fed and contractor vaccine mandates

The American Federation of Government employees is asking policymakers to put federal employees and contractors on the same clock when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

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The American Federation of Government Employees wants the Biden-Harris administration to extend the deadline for federal employees to receive their vaccine to after the holiday season to align with the policy on federal contractor vaccinations.

The request comes after a decision last week from the White House to extend the deadline for federal contractors to receive their vaccinations from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4, 2022, a move the administration says it took to align the contractor deadline with new requirements for some private employers and medical providers.

Now there's a "double standard," AFGE president Everett Kelley wrote in a letter to Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, and White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients on Tuesday.

"While we share the administration's goal of beating the pandemic and appreciate the vital role of vaccination in this effort, setting different compliance deadlines for employees vis-à-vis contractors is both harmful to morale and substantively unjustified," he wrote. "Federal workers should be able to complete the holiday season without the threat of discipline looming over them."

The contracting community and federal employees were never on the same vaccination deadline. Previously, contractors were under a Dec. 8 deadline, while feds are facing a quickly approaching deadline of being fully vaccinated by Nov. 22.

Since that is a deadline for full vaccination, the last date for federal employees to receive either the one dose vaccine or the second round of a two dose vaccine Nov. 9. That means noncompliant feds could potentially start facing discipline from their agencies as of today.

Regardless, Kelley wrote that it is "inexcusable" that contractors get the "entire holiday season" to meet the mandates, while feds don't. Feds would be able to use the holidays to "contemplate these important decisions," he wrote.

"The effect upon morale of federal employees being subject to possible discipline at this time of year cannot be overstated," he wrote.

Currently, only limited exceptions to the mandate are being offered for religious and medical exemptions.

Kelley continued on to say that corrections officers working in the Bureau of Prisons are "understandably chagrined" that inmates are under no vaccine mandate, while officers themselves are.

This isn't the only action taken on the vaccine front lately by AFGE, the largest union representing federal employees.

On Oct. 31, AFGE Local 501, which represents federal prisons employees in Miami, and AFGE Council of Prisons Local 33, which represents Bureau of Prisons employees, filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Other lawsuits, filed against the government's contractor vaccine mandate and the requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the Department of Labor for certain private employers.

A panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the OSHA mandate on Nov. 6, but that ruling does not appear to affect contractors who work in federal facilities. The Biden administration will ask the court to lift the stay as the case proceeds.

"So, this is an authority that we believe that Department of Labor has. We are very confident about it," Karine Jean-Pierre, principle deputy press secretary at the White House, said in a Monday news briefing.