IBM, American Air, Southwest Snub Abbott and Back Biden on Shots
(Bloomberg) -- International Business Machines Corp., American Airlines Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. will follow President Joe Biden’s mandate requiring that employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, defying an order from the Texas governor blocking such actions.
The decisions Tuesday set up an immediate challenge to Republican Governor Greg Abbott by three of the state’s largest employers. Companies with business operations in Texas have been caught between Abbott’s decree and a White House measure that says federal contractors must require the shots.
“IBM is a federal contractor and must comply with federal requirements, which direct employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by December 8th or obtain a medical or religious accommodation,” a spokesperson for the New York-based company said. “We will continue to protect the health and safety of IBM employees and clients, and we will continue to follow federal requirements.”
IBM has more than 6,000 people in its Austin-area workforce alone, according to the local chamber of commerce, and the two airlines have an even bigger footprint in the state. American, the largest U.S. carrier, is based in Fort Worth, and No. 4 Southwest has its headquarters in Dallas. Both airlines have contracts with the federal government for transporting employees and goods.
“We believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” American said of the Texas ban.
Southwest echoed that statement.
“We would be expected to comply with the president’s order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” the company said.
The Texas governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The state’s effort to blunt the impact of Biden’s order was criticized by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who accused Abbott of “putting politics ahead of health.”
“It’s not based on what is in the interest of the people you are governing,” she told reporters at a briefing in Washington. “We’re going to continue to implement the law -- which the president of the United States has the ability, the authority, the legal authority to do -- and we are going to continue to work to get more people vaccinated, to get out of this pandemic.”
The corporate blowback to Abbott’s order came a day after the vaccine issue surfaced as Southwest worked to get operations back on track after canceling 3,100 flights over four days. As customer outrage grew over long waits, some politicians linked the disruptions to employee objections to the required shots. Southwest executives and its pilots union denied that work slowdowns or sickouts were responsible.
American set a deadline of Nov. 24 for all workers to be fully vaccinated or face possible job loss. Southwest, which carries the most domestic passengers of U.S. airlines, set a Dec. 8 deadline. Both have said they would consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
Abbott’s move to counter the White House action came amid a national debate over vaccine mandates, which has engulfed corporate America as it tries to placate customers, employers and regulators. Some large oil and gas companies with operations in Texas, such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc, said they were still evaluating the ban and others, including Valero Energy Corp., declined to comment.
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a Covid-19 vaccination by any individual, including an employee or consumer,” Abbott said in his executive order Monday. He plans to put his ban before a special session of the state House and Senate, which would let the Republican-controlled legislature enshrine his executive order into law.
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