Class 1s Pause Vaccine Rules, Amtrak Does Not

Three Class 1 railroads will delay implementation of COVID-19 vaccination rules but Amtrak said it plans to require the vaccinations.

The action follows a ruling by a federal judge in Georgia who issued a nationwide stay of an executive order from the Biden administration that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated by early January.

Judge R. Stan Baker issued the stay in response to a lawsuit filed by seven states.

The judge said the plaintiffs “are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.”

Baker’s ruling applies nationally because another plaintiff in the suit, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members who do business nationwide.

The Biden executive order had required “federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force.”

Those guidelines require employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 with limited exceptions being allowed for medical or religious reasons.”

Earlier, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF cited the executive order in requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Unions representing workers at all of those carriers have sued in an effort to get the rules overturned. The unions have said they are not opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations but want the carriers to engage in collective bargaining over any rule requiring vaccinations.

Another federal judge in Kentucky had issued a similar stay of the Biden executive order but it only was effective in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In statements following this week’s court actions, NS, UP and BNSF said they have halted enforcing their vaccine rules but Amtrak said it has not.

NS said in its statement that it has encouraged its workers from the start of the pandemic to follow the guidance of public health experts.

The statement said NS is pausing enforcement of its vaccine rule, which means it will not subject unvaccinated workers to disciplinary action.

The Atlanta-based carrier said it is still still encouraging employees to get vaccinated and will observe how the legal challenges play out.

In a memo sent to its workers on Dec. 9, Amtrak said 95 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated. That percentage increases to 97 percent when taking into account workers who have received the first of two immunizations.

However, it said that regardless of the court action, it will continue to require workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

The memo noted that Amtrak announced its vaccination rule on Aug. 11, which was before the Biden executive order was issued.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it is sending “counseling letters” to employees who have failed to present proof of vaccination to advise them they are in noncompliance with company policy.

Those failing to provide proof of vaccination by Jan. 4 will be consider insubordinate and termination of their employment will be imposed.

Amtrak has said it expects to fall short of 100 percent compliance with the vaccination rule by Jan. 4 and expects to reduce service levels accordingly.

In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said long-distance trains will be subject to operating on less than daily schedules through March.

The passenger carrier has not said which trains would be affected but plans to do that next week.

The Associated Press has reported that all three of the Biden administration executive orders mandating workers receive COVID-19 vaccinations have been stayed by federal courts.

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