Conflicting mandates leaving L3Harris, employees at odds

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Oct. 13—Dueling executive orders issued by President Joe Biden and Gov. Gregg Abbott have pitted workers and owners at Hunt County's largest employer against each other.

Several people lined up before dawn on Oct. 8 outside the main gate at the L3Harris plant in Greenville to protest Biden's September executive order requiring vaccination for employees of contractors who do business with the federal government. The order impacts companies like L3Harris — a defense contractor — and doesn't allow workers to opt- or test out

The protestors notified the Herald-Banner they intend to return to the plant at 5 a.m. Friday for another "Stop The Mandate!" protest.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued an executive order on COVID-19 vaccine mandates, banning any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from requiring vaccinations for employees or customers.

Abbott also called on state lawmakers to pass a statute with the same effect, promising to rescind the executive order once that happened. The Texas Legislature is in its third special legislative session, which ends Oct. 19.

Following last week's protest, L3Harris issued a statement indicating it respected the right of it's employees to protest peacefully and that the company will comply with the Biden administration's vaccine mandate in order to "resume further in-person collaboration by our entire workforce as soon as possible."

When asked which of the conflicting executive orders the company plans to follow, L3Harris Communications Lead Marcella F. Thompson responded "In keeping with the federal executive order, which applies to U.S. government contractors, we are taking steps to ensure our workforce is fully vaccinated."

Samuel Schatte was speaking Wednesday on behalf of the protesters and said they were aware of the company's position.

"We are not planning to back down," Schatte said. "This is a huge issue that goes way deeper than just taking the vaccine. The bigger issue is the over step of the government trying to make health decisions for us. This is a freedom we are not willing to give up and we are willing to loose our jobs over. Last week our group peaked at about 150 people. I anticipate that number to be at least twice that this week. "

Schatte said the employees have been given a Dec. 8 deadline to be fully vaccinated.

"I think the main goal here is to get the company to see how strongly we value our freedom both religious and medical in the hopes that they will start to fight back against the mandate and stand up for the people that have been so key in moving the company to were it is today," he said. "I am also hoping we will get the attention of some of the politicians and embolden them to take up the fight for freedom. I think it is important to note that this is not a union function. This is employees both hourly and salary, family, and friends standing for our freedom."

Other major employers in the county say they are waiting on additional information as to which executive order, if either, applies to them.

Texas A&M Commerce is one such agency.

"A&M-Commerce being part of the Texas A&M University System, will follow the guidance provided by the system," said Michael Johnson, the university's Executive Director of Marketing and Communications. "To my

knowledge, no decision has been provided to us at this time."

Daniel Ray serves as the civil attorney for both Hunt County and the City of Greenville and said both are waiting on the issue to be settled one way or another.

"Most of the private sector is not going to be impacted (under the president's order) unless they are doing business with the federal government," Ray said. "At least as far as I can tell."

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Biden ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft regulations which would make the requirements under his order enforceable. The agency's rulemaking could take weeks.

"Then there is the certain court battle that's about to take place and that could take months," Ray said. "It is certain to be a controversial issue."

Hospital officials also differ on vaccine mandate policy.

"We have no plans to implement a mandate at this time," said Hunt Regional Healthcare spokesperson Lisa Hill, regarding the facilities in Greenville, Commerce and Quinlan.

The Texas Hospital Association on the other hand said Tuesday it supports the president's decision.

"The time is now to set politics aside and let hospitals do what's best to protect their patients," said THA president and CEO Ted Shaw. "Texas hospitals strongly oppose efforts underway to hamstring them from being

able to require vaccination of their own staff, many of whom are at the bedside every day with children and adults who are vulnerable to

COVID-19."

Shaw went on to say the political wrangling undermines hospitals' ability to react to the ongoing public health emergency, and that the medical organizations should be allowed respect and flexibility to mandate vaccines if they see fit.

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