Arms manufacturers are preparing for delays as protests against vaccines flare up

There are already signs that larger programs could feel the impact of losing skilled workers. Raytheon’s CEO announced this week that he could lose “thousands” of workers who would rather leave than get the vaccine.

“Even a few welders or engineers leaving their jobs because of a top-secret program could jeopardize our national security,” said William Greenwalt, a former deputy undersecretary for industrial policy in the George W. Bush administration. “Many times we’re just one person deep in an industrial base and it can take a decade or more to train someone new.”

At General Iron Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works in Maine, up to 1,000 workers, or 30 percent of the workforce, could leave work instead of getting shot, officials at Machinists Union Local S6 estimated. Six Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which are the backbone of the Navy’s surface fleet, are in various stages of construction at the shipyard.

Some Bell employees competing for the next-generation military helicopter they have already protested against the mandates in front of the headquarters of Amarillo. Demonstrations also occurred at the General Dynamics plant in Lima, Ohio, which makes Abrams tanks, and at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., Which is owned by the country’s largest shipyard, Huntington Ingalls Industries. The company builds and maintains national aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, and co-produces nuclear submarines and naval destroyers.

The company, with 44,000 employees, operates two major shipyards at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., And Pascagoula.

In the top video statement to her workforce Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin warned Monday: “I don’t want you to hope we change this policy or extend deadlines, we just can’t,” adding that “if you’ve decided not to get vaccinated and to choose a new path that is better aligned with your values ​​and beliefs, my only requirement is that you be fully informed of what this means for you and your family. ”

Some employees of defense companies began to organize. More than 200 workers at Bell and more than 130 from Lockheed Martin, working with an attorney from Arlington, Texas that their requests for exemption from vaccination be granted. The attorney representing them, Warren Norred, said Bell did not respond to his letter, while Lockheed confirmed the request.

Norred told POLITICA that his argument to the companies was that the employee who signed the letter requesting his dismissal had already risked his job. “If I put my name in the letter of acquittal, I have already proved good faith,” he said when I had a well-founded objection. “There are good reasons why reasonable people don’t want to take this vaccine.”

Lockheed Martin responded to the complaint by saying that the company “is taking the necessary steps to ensure smooth implementation, including providing a system for employees to upload their proof of vaccination, get vaccinated and access the standard placement procedure for individuals who, due to their health, they cannot inoculate status or a sincere religious belief prevents this. “

Bell replied that “he cannot comment on court cases.”

Norred said he thinks companies will want to find a solution. “It’s all political and I understand that big companies just want to sell their stuff, and they want to sell things by doing what the boss wants, and the boss here is Biden.”

The Covid vaccine and subsequent reconstitution injections are FDA-approved and defense companies must follow federal guidelines if they want to do business with the government. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these vaccines have passed all the necessary stages of clinical trials.

Senior Leader at Collins Aerospace Mission Systems, who asked not to be named, said the waivers are written to be “soft shooting” for certain skill sets. An employee who has to perform most of his work in a confidential environment, for example, cannot go to the facility even if he is granted a waiver.

“We’ve proven that if you lose or waste just a handful of the wrong people, things can be backed up for 10 years,” Collins ’manager said. “For strategic deterrence, for the big red button, the ability to keep this thing up and running, you can’t stop it for a month, let alone years.”

However, absences are covid-related and could continue to affect the workforce, and companies seek to limit these absences and losses by exercising the mandate.

Tensions are rising because it is not clear to some in the industry what management expects of them.

One CEO, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that so far his Pentagon colleagues “have not really explained what they are asking of us, so we are doing what we think is best while complying with the order.”

The practitioners are hanging out with their attorneys to figure out how and where to enforce the rule, although the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator suggested this week that the rules may be a little softer than originally thought.

Federal contractors should “adhere to their standard staffing processes and that for any of the likely relatively small percentage of non-compliant employees, they will go through training, counseling, placement, and then enforcement,” White House Covid response coordinator Jeff said. Zients, he said Wednesday. “We are creating flexibility within the system,” he added. “There’s no cliff here.”

Because of this flexibility, performers feel as if they are left to fend for themselves.

The Pentagon “did not provide much guidance on when an exemption could be granted or should be granted,” said a senior defense official, who asked to speak anonymously so he could speak freely. “And I think we are very much counting on the industry to use its own discretion to grant exemptions. That, frankly, is not the easiest thing to understand. “

The Pentagon forwarded the comment to the Office of Management and Budget. The official there confirmed POLITICO’s request, but did not comment.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that we are in close contact with our defense industry counterparts. We fully support the President’s mandate that vaccines be vaccinated so that they can continue to do the work they have to do. “

Some defense companies are proactive in approaching the expected labor shortage. Northrop Grumman is hiring more employees ahead of Dec. 8, CEO Kathy Warden told investors Thursday.

“Management should think a little more about implementation,” said Greenwalt, a former Pentagon official. “And take into account the possible consequences of a rigid mandate of only government contractors and devise a more flexible approach.”

Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes was the first of the top five defense prime ministers to comment on Biden’s vaccine term, describing the policy as boosting the company’s prospects in the fourth quarter of 2021. However, he said this week he expects to lose “thousands “employees due to order.

The problem in the supply chain is twofold, Hayes said Tuesday during a third-quarter profit call. “People are part of it, but I’m telling you, there are raw materials, too,” he said.

During earnings calls this week, CEOs in the defense industry warned that supply chain disruptions that are upsetting markets are likely to affect their business, which is an unwelcome blow if these companies also lose skilled workers.

On Capitol Hill, dozens of GOP lawmakers have in recent weeks called on the Biden administration to abolish the deadline or loosen the rules of the executive order, although the White House signals that it will be more flexible in execution than the original order suggested.

Oklahoma Armed Services Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma last week fired a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urging him to end the Pentagon’s mandate, while House of Representatives member Mike Rogers of Alabama led a House Republican group in a letter to Biden. in Austin. asks for the release of the mandate for defense contractors, arguing that it would take the industry a long time to recover from the loss of a skilled workforce.

Despite protests in front of factories and shipyards and letters from members of Congress, the impact of the December 8 deadline will only be known after the deadline.

“I think the challenge is that until we get to December 8, it’s hard for any company to know what the full extent of the potential impact is on its employees,” the defense official said. “And so we negotiate changes to the contract without knowing the full breadth of how that company or that contract could be implemented.”

Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.

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