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Boeing requiring vaccines for US employees, including SC workers

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Boeing Co. employees, including workers based in South Carolina, will have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination by Dec. 8. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Boeing Co. is requiring all U.S. employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, including its 5,700 workers in South Carolina. 

Workers will need proof of inoculation or an approved exemption for medical or religious reasons by Dec. 8, the company said Oct. 12.

The planemaker, which is one of largest U.S. defense contractors and a major employer in the Charleston region, said it's mandating the shots to comply with the White House's order that requires vaccines for federal employees and contractors. 

Exemptions must be "based on a disability or sincerely held religious belief," Boeing said in a statement Oct. 12. 

Employees who don't get vaccinated or don't have an approved exemption could lose their jobs.

"Boeing will continue to carefully monitor guidance from public health agencies, and requirements from federal, state and local governments to inform our COVID-19 policies," the company said.

As of January, Boeing had 5,706 employees based in South Carolina, where it builds the 787 Dreamliner and supports other commercial aircraft programs. Its St. Louis-based defense business has no major presence in the Palmetto State.

Boeing employs about 125,000 workers nationwide. 

In Washington state, where Boeing has about 57,000 employees, a union representing Seattle-area machinists said it has "demanded to bargain the effects" of the new vaccine policy.

John Holden, president of the International International Association of Machinists District 751, wrote in the October issue of the union's monthly newspaper that members "are polarized on this issue." 

"Everyone, no matter what side of the issue you are on, is concerned about the vaccine mandate," Holden wrote. 

The IAM has tried but failed gain a foothold at Boeing's North Charleston site. None of Boeing's South Carolina workers are unionized. 

Most major airlines, which are considered government contractors, have said they will comply with the White House's vaccine policy. United Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are requiring the shots for their workers. 

Prior to Boeing's Oct. 12 statement, the planemaker was encouraging workers to get their coronavirus shots but hadn't required them. 

The company's statement specified the new policy was being implemented "to ensure compliance with President Biden's executive order." 

Boeing's vaccine policy could hit a snag in Texas, where Boeing has around 5,000 employees. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Monday that bars private employers from requiring vaccines.

So far, Texas-based Southwest and American Airlines have said they still plan to require the shots despite Abbott's order. 

In addition to rules for federal contractors, the Biden administration also plans to require employers with 100 or more workers to mandate coronavirus vaccines or implement weekly testing for workers who don't have their shots. 

Some South Carolina employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines include companies like West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp., hospital systems like the Medical University of South Carolina and local municipalities including Charleston and North Charleston. 

In a recent survey of about 440 businesses, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce found that about half of respondents require COVID-19 vaccines for workers or are considering a mandate. The other half don't plan to mandate the shots. 

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Reach Emily Williams at 843-607-0894. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

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