Just a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring businesses and other private entities in his state from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, several major companies have said they will defy his ban and follow federal guidelines instead.
The Texas-based companies—including American Airlines, Southwest, ConocoPhillips, and Dell Technologies—said they're planning to still require, with few exceptions, that employees under federal contracts abide by federal rules and get vaccinated.
Curtis Blessing, a spokesperson for American Airlines which is headquartered in Texas, told The Daily Beast in a statement on Tuesday that the airlines company would be “reviewing” Abbott’s order but that it wouldn’t change the company’s posture on vaccines.
“We are reviewing the executive order issued by Gov. Abbott, but we believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” Blessing wrote in an email.
Emily Laderman, a Dell Technologies spokesperson, similarly told The Daily Beast in a statement that the company planned to reopen its remaining sites beginning in January next year—and its U.S.-based teams supporting federal contracts would still be subject to Biden’s federal requirement for vaccines.
“As part of our reopening strategy and keeping with our health- and safety-first approach, starting Jan. 4 we’ll implement a new policy that requires anyone entering our premises to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 rapid testing,” Laderman wrote in an email. She said the company would allow any employee or contractor who “experiences challenges with the policy” to have the option to work remotely.
The companies’ statements come after Abbott declared on Monday that: “No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a Covid-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from Covid-19.”
While acknowledging in a news release Monday that coronavirus vaccines are “safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus,” Abbott maintained that they should not be required for Texans.
The order is a direct challenge to President Biden’s effort to boost vaccination among America’s workforce.
In September, Biden ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a new rule that would make it possible to enforce vaccine requirements.
Abbott’s conflicting order has caused some companies to hustle to respond to the opposing messages after Biden said his administration would press for private companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing for COVID-19.
“It’s very hard to tell businesses that operate internationally — which many do in the state of Texas — that they can't mandate [vaccines] in order to operate their business,” Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine told The Daily Beast.
Dennis Nuss, media relations and crisis communications director at ConocoPhillips, an oil and gas company headquartered in Houston, told The Daily Beast in an email that each of the directives “require a more thorough review.”
But the company recently decided to mandate vaccines for several groups, he said, including workers facing high exposure risk for COVID-19 and new hires in the U.S., among others. “By December 8, these groups of employees and contractors will be required to provide proof of full vaccination, with limited exceptions,” he added.
Southwest Airlines said in a statement that it was aware of Abbott’s mandate but that Biden’s “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.”
IBM, which is one of the largest tech employers in the state, made a similar argument, suggesting that as a federal contractor it had to comply with federal requirements and that it would still be directing most employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by early December.
“We will continue to protect the health and safety of IBM employees and clients, and we will continue to follow federal requirements,” the company said.
On Monday, Abbott, who has become a GOP ring leader in opposing public health measures put in place to curb the coronavirus, accused Biden of “bullying many private entities into imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.”
The White House on Tuesday contested that Abbott and other Republican governors who have made efforts to counter progress on vaccinating American workers were “putting politics ahead of public health.”
“Governor Abbott’s executive order banning mandates and, I would also note, the announcement by Gov. DeSantis this morning essentially banning the implementation of mandates, fit a familiar pattern that we’ve seen of putting politics ahead of public health,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, adding that more than 700,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19.
“Every leader should be focused on efforts to save lives and end the pandemic,” Psaki said. “Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives that make it more difficult to save lives across the country or in any state?”
Patrick Souter, a health law professor at Baylor University and counsel at Gray Reed, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday the order had the potential to cause “major headaches” for companies who have workers employed in states outside of Texas.
“It conflicts with a federal executive order and generally federal law will trump state law,” he added. “It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if there’s a lawsuit being drafted right now.”