Government employees union presses Biden to extend U.S. vaccine deadline

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) - A union representing over 700,000 government employees asked the White House on Tuesday to extend a Nov. 22 deadline for government employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to bring it into line with a date set for contractors.

The White House last week extended a deadline for federal contractors to get vaccinated from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4, part of a broader move to make it easier for companies to comply, some of whom face labor shortages over the U.S. holiday season. read more

"Setting different compliance deadlines for employees vis-à-vis contractors is both harmful to morale and substantively unjustified," the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) wrote in an "urgent request," noting contractors often work alongside federal employees.

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"This double standard has caused confusion and distress among federal employees," AFGE President Everett Kelley said.

American Airlines (AAL.O), Boeing (BA.N) and Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) in recent days have extended their deadline for employees to get vaccinated to Jan. 4.

Under President Biden's executive order, federal workers needed to receive their final shot by Nov. 8 in order to be considered fully vaccinated by Nov. 22.

Unvaccinated federal employees who have not received a religious or medical exception are in violation of a lawful order and face "discipline, up to and including termination or removal."

Last month, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said the administration's goal was to get people vaccinated and "not to punish them."

Agencies will not remove employees from federal service until after a process of education and counseling, he said, adding that the vaccine requirements "will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on," Zients said.

Asked about the AFGE letter, a White House Office of Management and Budget spokesperson said the "purpose of this requirement is to protect the federal workforce."

The AFGE said Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are especially impacted by the deadline and were dismayed "by the seemingly more favorable (post-holiday) deadlines offered to contractors."

On Monday, Representative Sam Graves, the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, and Representative Garret Graves sent letters to the Federal Aviation Administration and TSA about the potential disruptive impacts the COVID-19 vaccine mandate could have on U.S. aviation.

"We are concerned that vaccine mandates combined with a pre-existing worker shortage and anticipated return of holiday air travel demands are compounding and creating a perfect storm," they wrote.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Richard Pullin

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