Two Texas-based airlines said they will still require their workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, despite a new executive order from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott banning all vaccine mandates in the state.

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Gov. Greg Abbott

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said it will still seek to meet the Biden administration’s demand that contractors of the federal government get their workforce vaccinated.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which employed 102,700 people at the end of last year, said in a statement that Abbott’s order “does not change anything for American.”

Southwest CEO Eric Kelly expressed personal opposition to the Biden administration’s mandate during an interview with CNBC on Tuesday – but said it sees no other way to proceed. Southwest had more than 60,000 employees in 2019.

Kelly said the airline’s goal is to improve health and safety not to get people fired. “I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of mandate, but the executive order from President Biden mandates … all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a (mandate) in place by December 8.”

Abbott’s order, which will remain in effect until the Republican-dominated Texas legislature passes a law that formalizes it, means violators could be fined up to $1,000. The order says it is meant to protect Texans from “losing their livelihoods” if they object to receiving the vaccine “for reasons of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the federal mandate on vaccination supersedes state law.

Bruce Ackerman, a law and political science professor at Yale University, said in an email that the Constitution “couldn’t be clearer in providing that all federal statutes ‘shall be the Supreme law of the land’ – provided that they are within the powers granted Congress.”

“There can be no question as to Congress’ power to protect the nation’s health in a pandemic or the president’s authority to prevent states from interfering with his mandate,” he added.

American Airlines appeared to agree. “We are reviewing the executive order issued by Gov. Abbott, but we believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws,” it said in a statement.

When asked why the White House felt Gov. Abbott would move toward banning vaccine mandates in this case, Psaki answered, “Politics.”

Mandates imposed by private companies also help increase certainty in business, Psaki added, by reducing the number of workers out sick. “And that is good, ultimately, for businesses. It’s good for the economy,” she said.

Some small-business owners in Texas who spoke with The Washington Post expressed frustration with Abbott’s order to ban mandates.

David Zuniga, 51, a clinical psychologist in Austin, said he was frustrated that the order would prevent him from requiring vaccination from customers. “Gov. Abbott says he’s doing this for ‘freedom’ but his notion of freedom is an infantile notion of freedom,” Zuniga said in an email. “Freedom does not mean the freedom to do anything we want. We are a society of laws.”

Others said they were tired of the increasing politicization of the pandemic.

David Ogrin, 63, who owns a golf academy in New Braunfels, Texas, said Biden and Abbott’s vaccine policies didn’t directly affect him – while he is vaccinated, he has no plans to mandate vaccination on his fewer than 20 employees, or for his customers. But he says he’s tired of the back-and-forth over mandates between the federal and state government.

“We’re all a little shell-shocked and tired,” Ogrin said. “And I think that goes for everybody. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want this (coronavirus) to go away.”

“But it doesn’t care about your politics,” Ogrin added, noting how he has seen both conservative and liberal friends pass away from COVID-19.


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