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Dec. 5, 2021

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Vaccine mandates create conflict in workplaces

Defiant employees could disrupt the tight labor market

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Justin Paetow, center, a tin shop worker at Bath Iron Works, takes part in a demonstration against COVID-19 vaccine mandate outside the shipyard on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Bath, Maine.
Justin Paetow, center, a tin shop worker at Bath Iron Works, takes part in a demonstration against COVID-19 vaccine mandate outside the shipyard on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Bath, Maine. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds) (josh reynolds/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

BATH, Maine — Josh “Chevy” Chevalier is a third-generation shipbuilder who hasn’t missed a day of work during the pandemic in his job as a welder constructing Navy warships on the Maine coast.

But he’s ready to walk away from his job because of an impending mandate from President Joe Biden that federal contractors and all U.S. businesses with 100 or more workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“People are fighting for their constitutional rights — the way they think their life should be,” said Chevalier, one of hundreds of employees at Bath Iron Works threatening to leave.

Chevalier is among a small but significant number of American workers deciding whether to quit their jobs and careers in defiance of what they consider intrusive edicts that affect their freedoms.

The Biden administration, public health officials and many business leaders agree that vaccine requirements are legal, prudent actions necessary to help the world emerge from a pandemic that has killed more than 700,000 Americans and nearly 5 million people worldwide.

The defiant workers make up a small fraction of the overall workforce, with many cities, states and businesses reporting that more than 9 out of 10 of their workers are complying with mandates.

But they have the potential to create disruptions in a tight labor market and have become the latest roadblock in overcoming the vaccine hesitancy that allowed the COVID crisis to take a devastating turn over the summer. In many cases, the reasons for the objections are rooted in misinformation.

The refusers come from all types of occupations — defense industry workers, police officers, firefighters, educators and health care workers. In Seattle, a group of city firefighters turned in their boots at City Hall on Tuesday to protest a vaccination requirement.

Thousands of people have sought religious or medical exemptions that were rejected; others won’t stand to be told what to do and have quit or been fired.

Nick Rolovich, the football coach at Washington State University, was let go from his $3.2 million-a-year job on Monday, along with four assistants. Rolovich, the first major college coach to lose his job over vaccination status, claimed a religious exemption. He is suing.

The conflict over mandates is likely to grow in the coming weeks. The Biden administration is expected to move forward any day with the mandate that employers with 100 or more workers require all employees be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, though enforcement likely won’t start for several weeks. The rule for federal contractors goes into effect in December, with no testing option, but many businesses, governments and schools are already implementing mandates.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups that represent large employers have warned that workers might simply migrate to jobs at smaller businesses where they don’t face vaccination requirements. That could create challenges for large retailers going into the holiday season, among other disruptions, the chamber warned.

Individuals who have left their jobs and are seeking work that doesn’t require vaccinations are sharing information on social media. Small employers looking for workers are turning to online job boards such as RedBalloon, where employers sign a pledge that they won’t make vaccines a condition for hiring.

Andrew Crapuchettes, RedBalloon’s founder and chief executive, said he started the online job board more than two months ago for people “who just want to work and don’t want to get into politics in the office.”

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