© 2021 Maine Public
header.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Health

Nearly 2,000 Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers are not vaccinated as federal mandate deadline arrives

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, seen last year, is one of the shipyards getting an influx of reservists to handle a work backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, seen last year, is one of the shipyards getting an influx of reservists to handle a work backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday is the deadline for federal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as ordered by President Joe Biden in September. In Maine nearly 2,000 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are signaling they will reject the mandate, which could leave the Navy with a potential shortage of skilled employees.

Officials at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard say 70% of the facility's 6,500 plus shipyard workers have indicated that they are fully vaccinated. That leaves more than 1,900 workers who may not be fully compliant with the mandate. The shipyard says employees who have not started the vaccination process by today will be given five days to reconsider getting the vaccine. After that, they face discipline, including a two week suspension and even termination.

"If we lose this many people it will be very hard to complete the work on time for the Navy," says Eudes James, the President of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which has filed an unfair labor practices complaint alleging that the shipyard failed to negotiate the mandate process with the union. James says many members want to see an alternative option to vaccination, and will stand firm against the mandate.

Alana Schaeffer of the Metal Trades Council says she is still negotiating the mandate implementation with the shipyard on behalf of her members, and she doesn't expect that management will walk any vaccine holdouts out of the gate today. But she says President Biden's Executive Order will be enforced.

"Those employees that do not receive an exemption or comply with the mandate from our president and not the shipyard, I don't see any other result than that progressive discipline paying out however long that takes," Schaeffer says.

The Shipyard, meanwhile, says it will use temporary appointments to fill vacancies and use Direct Hire Authority under federal law to expedite hiring critical positions. In addition, Portsmouth says it could borrow workers from any of the Navy's three other public shipyards.