Texas-based Southwest and American Airlines both said Tuesday they would move forward with mandates that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite the state’s governor attempting to ban such requirements across Texas this week.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed an executive order on Monday barring vaccine mandates for any business, government office or other entity across the state, despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus and its highly transmissible delta variant.
That effort is in opposition to President Joe Biden’s federal requirement that businesses with 100 employees or more must mandate vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing. The White House asked the Department of Labor to draft a rule doing so last month, a decision that could ultimately impact 100 million Americans. There is also a separate provision that mandates all federal workers and government contractors be vaccinated as well.
Federal contractors have until Dec. 8 to show they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Southwest and American have asked employees to submit proof of vaccination by Nov. 24.
“Federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” Southwest told Politico in a statement Tuesday, adding that it would continue to update employees about any “potential changes.”
American Airlines also told The Hill it was reviewing Abbott’s order, but it, too, believed “the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything.”
Almost all major U.S. airlines have announced vaccine mandates for staff after the White House announcements. Delta Air Lines does not have a vaccine requirement but charges a $200 monthly surcharge for unvaccinated workers.
Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, said this week he was opposed to a vaccine requirement but added the company must comply with the Biden decision.
Vaccination remains a safe and effective way to prevent severe illness and death associated with COVID-19, but mandates compelling Americans to do so have remained a flashpoint among conservatives. Abbott, who is fully vaccinated himself, has regularly moved to bar mask and vaccination requirements across the state, calling Biden’s orders “bullying” against private businesses.
Only about 52% of the Texas population is fully vaccinated and the state is still seeing an average of more than 7,000 new cases per day.