Why Big Businesses in Texas Are Ignoring Gov. Abbott's Vaccine Mandate Ban

·4 min read
Southwest Airlines Experiences Major Flight Cancellations Across U.S.
Southwest Airlines Experiences Major Flight Cancellations Across U.S.

Southwest Airlines, which is headquartered in Dallas, is among the businesses that have said they will continue to require vaccination, telling TIME they feel the federal action “supersedes” state laws. Credit - Kevin Dietsch—Getty Images

Mandates have proven to be an effective but controversial method for compelling vaccine-shy Americans to receive their shots. But as the Biden Administration has doubled down on requiring COVID-19 vaccination—including proposing a rule that businesses with more than 100 employees mandate vaccination—for some Republicans, opposition to mandates is proving to be an essential credential for showcasing leaders’ conservative bonafides.

On Oct. 11, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott—who has opposed masking but came under fire from a Republican political rival recently for allegedly failing to push back hard enough on federal vaccine mandates—took a strong stand against vaccine mandates, issuing an executive order banning any “entity” in Texas from mandating vaccination for people who object to the vaccine for any reason, including “personal conscience.”

Stuck between following federal guidance and the state executive order, representatives for high-profile businesses based in Texas told TIME that they feel that federal law as well as employees and customers’ safety supersedes Abbott’s rule. And those that already required employees to be vaccinated have no intention of changing course.

Dell, which is based in Round Rock, Tex., and boasted revenue of $92.2 billion last year, is requiring employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing to work in the office. “Any employee or contractor who experiences challenges with the policy will have the option, by role, to work remotely,” the company told TIME in a statement on Oct. 12. “We believe this policy provides multiple options for anyone who works for or with Dell, and allows us to maintain safe working environments around the world.”

IBM, which has large offices in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio and reported revenue of $73.6 billion last year, said all direct employees of federal contractors must be vaccinated by Dec. 8, or get a medical or religious exemption. “We will continue to protect the health and safety of IBM employees and clients, and we will continue to follow federal requirements,” the company told TIME in a statement.

The air travel industry, which has come out strongly in favor of vaccine mandates, has also declined to change course. American Airlines, the largest airline in the U.S. which has its headquarters in Fort Worth, told Bloomberg that it feels the pending federal rule “supersedes any conflicting state laws.” The company is requiring all employees be fully vaccinated by Nov. 24. A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, which is headquartered in Dallas, echoed American Airlines in a statement to TIME, writing, “federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor.” Southwest employees must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Other organizations responded to Abbott’s rule with greater caution. Chevron, which has facilities in Texas and is one of the largest oil companies in the world, told TIME that its employees who travel internationally, work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, or work aboard tankers must be vaccinated. However, a statement from the company noted that the federal rule has not been formally issued yet, “so it is premature to say what its impact will have on our operations.”

“To the extent federal, state and local laws are not in conflict, we endeavor to remain in compliance with all of them,” the statement read. “​​When a new law is put into effect, we review our practices and adjust them as may be necessary.”

Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, which currently requires its employees to be vaccinated, told TIME that it is reviewing Abbott’s order, but reaffirmed its commitment to vaccination, noting that many of the women and children it serves are immunocompromised. “We support the ability of private employers to determine the best vaccine policy for their operations and employee safety,” a representative told TIME in a statement.

Houston Methodist announced an employee vaccine mandate in March, and later fended off a lawsuit from employees who opposed the mandate; more than 153 employees in a workforce of 26,000 ultimately resigned or were fired in June after they failed to to be vaccinated by a final deadline. Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, told TIME that because the hospital implemented the mandate early, it won’t be immediately affected by the order, as most employees are already vaccinated. But he added that the hospital system is taking a closer look at the executive order to determine its implications.

“We are concerned for other Texas hospitals that may not be able to continue their mandates now with this executive order,” Boom said. “Health care workers all have an obligation to safely care for their patients and this order makes that promise harder.”

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