TSA screening officers face vaccine deadline with up to 40% vaccine missing | Business

Up to 40% of U.S. airport security screening officers have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 as the vaccination deadline for federal employees and the busy vacation travel period converge.

Many employees of the Transportation Security Administration are resisting the requirement as the Nov. 22 deadline approaches, said Hydrick Thomas, president of the U.S. Federation of Government Employees’ division representing airport security officers in First line.

Although neither Thomas nor the agency see travel disruptions occurring around Thanksgiving, which November 25 is only three days later, the union leader said there could be staff shortages during the December vacation if the agency took a hard line on unvaccinated workers.

“They won’t be ready for Christmas if they get rid of everyone who chooses not to get the vaccine,” Thomas said. “If they don’t welcome the employees during this coming vacation, we’re going to have a problem with the selection process.”

He estimated that those who hesitate are around four in ten, although he admits that he did not have precise numbers.

The prospect of large numbers of unvaccinated workers raises multiple questions, including whether they increase the risk of disease transmission given their close encounters with many travelers every day. The TSA requires workers to wear masks and take other infection precautions. The problem also reflects broader concerns in the aviation industry, as some pilot unions oppose vaccine requirements and exemption policies they deem too limited.

The TSA, whose screening officers were forced to work closely with the public during the pandemic, saw 32 employees die from Covid-19, according to its website. There are 271 active cases of Covid-19 among agency workers and more than 11,000 employees have been infected during the pandemic.

The TSA, which just completed an increase in hiring to deal with the gradual increase in post-pandemic flights and anticipates no loss of staff during the holidays, predicts that there will be no immediate disruptions to the following President Joe Biden’s decision to immunize mandate.

“I don’t think the implementation of the mandate will have any impact on staffing for Thanksgiving,” TSA administrator David Pekoske told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The agency has not released data on staff vaccinations, but Pekoske said it saw “a fairly significant increase”.

TSA spokesman Carter Langston declined to comment directly on Thomas’ estimates, but said the agency was happy with the response from the workforce.

“I can’t comment on the anecdotes, but the compliance rate is very high and we don’t have all the data yet,” Langston said.

“We have made tremendous progress in our vaccination efforts, and as the November 22 deadline approaches, we see this not so much of a cliff, but a step to further counsel all unvaccinated employees. “, did he declare.

On whether there could be any problems with the wave of travel expected in the second half of December, Langston said: “It’s too early to get into any kind of projections on a vacation in a month We are ready for this holiday travel season We are staffed and prepared.

Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. carriers, said November 7 ticket sales for travel during the Thanksgiving holiday were 12% lower than the equivalent date of 2019 before the pandemic. This would be higher than at any time since March 2020, but still well below normal levels.

The TSA said in a press release Wednesday that it does not expect travel around Thanksgiving to hit the all-time high of 2019, but will be “significantly higher” than current levels.

Federal guidelines say that federal employees who refuse to be vaccinated and do not qualify for a religious or medical exemption may be terminated, but such action will not happen immediately. The agencies were tasked with carrying out education and counseling first. This makes redundancies of TSA workers unlikely during the holiday period.

“We know we have lost too many TSA employees to Covid-19 and that vaccines are the best way to protect our workforce and our communities,” TSA Langston said.

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