EVERETT — Some 11,000 employees of the Boeing Co. — about 9% of the U.S. workforce — have sought religious or medical exemptions to a company and federal requirement that workers be vaccinated, the Reuters news service reported Tuesday.
Quoting “people familiar with the matter,” Reuters said the number of exemptions sought was many times higher than executives expected. The requests have the company “scrambling for a strategy that keeps employees safe and complies with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors, but avoids an exodus of engineering and factory labor,” the news report said.
The company declined to confirm the number reported by Reuters, saying only that “Boeing is committed to maintaining a safe working environment for our employees, and advancing the health and safety of our global workforce is fundamental to our values.”
Boeing set its own vaccination deadline for employees, of Dec. 8, but has extended it to Jan. 4 to match the federal mandate.
An internal Boeing email, according to Reuters, says employees whose requests for exemption from vaccination are approved will be required to wear a face covering, physically distance and frequently test for COVID-19.
The company’s primary blue-collar union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), opposes mandatory vaccinations “as this places some of our members in an untenable position,” District 751 of the union said in an statement last week. IAM is urging the company to utilize “layoffs as an alternative to firing.”
Blue-collar workers, the union said, “can’t work from home like managers and executives have … It is wrong for workers to now be told they will be fired for being unable to comply with this vaccine mandate.”
Boeing employs about 30,000 people at facilities near Paine Field in Everett, where it builds the commercial 777, 767 and 747 jetliners and the KC-46A military tanker.
On Oct. 15, three days after the company issued the vaccine mandate, more than 100 people protested near the IAM District 751 union hall in Everett. People lined both sides of Airport Road, some carrying signs that had messages supporting “medical freedom.”
Early in the outbreak, in March 2020, a Boeing employee died as a result of COVID-19, and the company suspended operations for several weeks.