BREMERTON — A federal judge in Texas has halted President Joe Biden's executive order mandating federal workers, including those on the Kitsap Peninsula, be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The injunction by Judge Jeffrey Brown of the Southern District of Texas pauses any enforcement of discipline against employees of the federal workforce who remain unvaccinated following Biden's September order. That includes civilians at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and at the northwest's Navy installations.
"Here at (the shipyard), we will continue to maintain workforce safety measures, including twice-weekly testing for unvaccinated employees, and other command COVID-19 mitigation strategies," Capt. Jip Mosman, commander of the shipyard, informed the force of 15,000 Friday.
Judge Jeffrey Brown, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2019, said his decision was not about "whether folks should get vaccinated against COVID-19 — the court believes they should.
"It is instead about whether the President can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment," Brown wrote. "That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far."
Brown referenced the Supreme Court's recent decision to block the Biden administration's effort to require vaccinations for companies with more than 100 employees.
During the mandate, vaccination rates increased from the low 50s to almost 90 percent at the shipyard, according to figures released in the fall.
Even before Brown's ruling, the employment status of shipyard workers who declined vaccination against COVID-19 and pursued an exemption remained in limbo. They must submit to twice-weekly rapid tests and quarantine for five days if they come in close contact with someone who is sick with COVID-19. Vaccinated workers, as long as they got one of their three possible jabs recently, do not have to test or quarantine for close contacts.
The shipyard declined to release specific numbers of the rates of vaccination this month, as well as how many employees have sought religious or medical exemptions, citing guidance from the Pentagon.
The federal government — and more specifically, the Navy — is Kitsap's largest employer, with almost 20,000 civilians and 11,000 sailors, according to data from the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance.
Following the Food and Drug Administration's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine in August, the Pentagon mandated all active-duty personnel, including sailors, be vaccinated.
Jen Psaki, Biden's press secretary, said the administration appealed Brown's ruling and noted about 98 percent of federal workers have been vaccinated.
Edward Mannen, vice-president of the Bremerton Metal Trades Council, said the union was pleased with the judge's ruling. He noted a "significant" number of workers had quit over the mandate already. There are many more who are awaiting requests for religious or medical exemptions or who've refused the vaccine.
"We're viewing this as a good thing," he said.
Eric Morse, the metal trades council's president, added: "the Union’s stance has always been freedom of our Bargaining Unit Employees to choose what goes into their bodies," he wrote in an email. "The Judge’s decision only helps to support our stance."
The Pentagon already mandated all active-duty personnel, including sailors, be vaccinated, a day after the Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer vaccine full approval in August.
Josh Farley is a reporter covering the military and Bremerton for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-9227, email@example.com or on Twitter at @joshfarley.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Judge blocks vaccine mandate for workers Puget Sound Naval Shipyard