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Thousands of Wichita workers still face vaccine deadline

Thousands of Wichita workers still face vaccine mandate
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 6:15 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The vaccine deadline is uncertain for thousands of workers across Kansas after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officially placed a temporary hold on enforcement of the federal vaccine mandate. That development this week has come with questions about what companies are are included in the January 4 COVID-19 vaccine deadline.

OSHA’s vaccine mandate is caught up in the court system, but a separate mandate for federal workers, federal contractors and CMS services still stands. Thursday afternoon, the local machinists union representing aircraft workers, including employees of Spirit AeroSystems and Textron Aviation, sent a letter explaining that the OSHA mandate suspension doesn’t affect them.

“With the recent news of OSHA suspending enforcement of the vaccine mandate for private employers, I want to clarify things for us in aerospace, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District Loge 70 President Cornell Beard wrote to begin the letter. “The news from OSHA is very confusing and our local media hasn’t made understanding any easier. As of right now, the suspension does not include federal contractors, which is how we have been designated. We are working very hard to stay up on any current events that may apply to our workforce throughout Kansas. If there are any changes, we will communicate to you all as quickly as possible. Please stay positive and healthy.”

With CMS services like hospitals also not included in OSHA’s mandate, in Wichita, nothing changes for workers with Ascension Via Christi or Wesley either.

“What we have right now is three different laws under three different legal jurisdictions or programs,” explained employment attorney Eric Metz with Triplett Woolf Garretson, LLC. “The basis for the OSHA stay by the courts is based on a different law than the CMS with federal contractor guidelines. One of the main differences (is) they do not have a testing option. The mandate is to be vaccinated by early January.”

It’s unclear what will happen with OSHA’s mandate, but on Wednesday, Metz advised businesses with 100 or more employees to prepare a plan in case the court upholds the original deadline for them.

“It’s likely that these current deadlines won’t stand because we will be so close to them by a court ruling,” Metz said. “It will be a huge burden on employers and employees. But I could be wrong and that’s why being prepared, but not launching a program, is probably the best advice.”

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