Biden vaccine mandate could make supply chain crisis even worse, cargo companies warn

A trade group representing cargo airline companies is warning President Biden that vaccine mandates for workers could hurt operations ahead of the peak holiday season, saying it will be “virtually impossible” to have the workforce fully vaccinated by the December deadline, and requesting an extension into 2022.

In a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget this week, Cargo Airline Association President Stephen Alterman warned that he and his organization have “significant concerns with the employer mandates announced on Sept. 9, 2021, and the ability of industry members to implement the required employee vaccinations by Dec. 8, 2021.”

“Association members are now entering (or have entered) their peak seasons, with operations ramping up to support our customer base and the national economy as the annual Holiday Season approaches,” Alterman wrote. “This is in addition to our continued role in transporting critical medical supplies, vaccines, and essential goods in response to the ongoing pandemic.”

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Alterman said that in order to “support these services,” industry members “will be hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to meet our needs.”

His group’s members include UPS, FedEx, Atlas Air Worldwide and Amazon, as well as multiple regional and international airports.

“As a practical matter, we are extremely concerned that it will be virtually impossible to have 100% of our respective work forces vaccinated by December 8,” he warned. “This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that we are already experiencing a worker shortage, both in the air and on the ground, and any loss of employees who refuse to be vaccinated will adversely impact needed operations.”

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Alterman “respectfully” requested that members of the air cargo industry “be granted flexibility” with respect to the Dec. 8 deadline for 100% employee vaccinations.

“Sliding this date into the first half of 2022 will allow Association members to meet the demands of the e-commerce revolution during the Holiday Season while, at the same time, moving forward toward the 100% vaccination standard in the New Year,” he wrote.

The letter, first obtained by Politico, was also shared with Jeffrey Zients, the head of the White House coronavirus task force and “Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.”

Alterman’s letter comes after the president signed an executive order over the summer requiring that all workers in the executive branch be vaccinated against COVID-19. Biden also signed an order to require businesses with more than 100 workers to mandate coronavirus vaccinations.

Biden also signed an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring federal contractors to mandate vaccinations and ensure workers are fully vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Alterman’s warning also comes amid supply chain bottlenecks, which the Biden administration has sought to quell in recent days.

The White House has hailed the “serious progress” being made in the days following Biden’s efforts to ensure ports in California operate 24 hours a day.

The White House announced Tuesday that Union Pacific Railroad would serve the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and would also operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help move the backlog of containers.

Last week, the White House announced that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would become 24/7 operations, along with commitments from the largest carriers of goods – WalmartFedEx and UPS — as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to relieve supply chain bottlenecks, strengthen supply chain resiliency and ease shipping backlogs.

But the number of ships waiting to enter those ports Monday hit a record high, with data from the Marine Exchange reporting a total of 157 ships waiting at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach. As of Monday, 100 ships were at anchor and 57 were at berths.

But as the backlog grows in the California ports due to a record number of container ships waiting at sea, the Port of Savannah is also starting to see congestion as nearly two dozen ships wait off the Georgia coast.

Retailers and the White House issued a stark warning to consumers with regards to holiday shopping, urging they buy gifts early as the shipping crisis stifles production.

Supply chain issues are a source of mounting concern as global economies attempt to meet surging demand and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortages of basic household items, such as toilet paper, raw materials needed for construction and critical tech components, such as semiconductors, have contributed to a surge in prices for consumers.

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