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Little Rock airport employees face Dec. 8 deadline for covid-19 vaccination or face job termination

by Noel Oman | October 27, 2021 at 7:01 a.m.
FILE — Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock

Employees at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field must be fully vaccinated by Dec, 8 or face getting fired, the airport's top executive said in a memorandum issued to all employees Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, a total of 104 out of the airport's 147 employees, or 71%, were vaccinated, according to Bryan Malinowski, the airport's executive director.

The requirement only became apparent last week when airport executives received federal guidance that the airport's employees fall under President Joe Biden's executive orders mandating all federal workers and federal contractors must be vaccinated, he told members of the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

The airport qualifies as a federal contractor because it receives more than $250,000 in money from the federal government through lease contracts it has for space with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Transportation Security Agency, he said.

The only exception to the mandate is that Clinton National "is legally required to provide an accommodation for a disability or sincerely held religious belief or practice," according to the memo.

Unvaccinated employees have little time to get vaccinated. Under the guidance, an employee is considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose series or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine. That would mean they would have to get their second shot by Dec. 8.

"Dec. 8 is six weeks away," commission Chairman John Rutledge said. "I think time is ticking."

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There is no vaccine booster requirement, Malinowski said.

At the commission meeting, Carolyn Witherspoon, the counsel for the commission, said in response to a question from commissioner Bill Walker that it was unclear whether the mandate applied to other personnel who work at the airport, such as concessions or engineers.

"These just came out," she said. "A conversation is going on nationally about who is going to be covered and who is not going to be covered."

In a memo to the commission, Witherspoon said the General Services Administration is taking a proactive approach to compliance.

"The airport must attempt to ensure that any non-complying employee understands the possibility of termination," she wrote. "The airport will start with a notice to all employees. This will be followed with meetings to educate non-vaccinated employees. The airport will ensure that no accommodation is required or needed."

To not comply, the airport will "lose additional opportunities for funding," Witherspoon she said, noting no other possible penalties have been announced.

The airport receives millions of dollars annually in federal funding to maintain and improve the airport runways, taxiways, lighting and other aviation-related equipment.

She also noted the presidential executive orders and federal guidance have been "designed to pre-empt the no-mask mandate here, the no covid-19 [vaccination] state statutes."

"There's going to be litigation on this," Witherspoon added. "I hope we are not a part of it."

Malinowski's memo noted that a free vaccine clinic will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at TAC Air, a general aviation service center at 2401 Crisp Drive. The airport will hold other vaccine clinics as well, he said.

The memo came out after commissioners including Patrick Shueck and Tiffany Mays O'Guinn urged the airport staff to get the word out quickly on the mandate and be proactive on the mandate in hiring, including requiring applicants to be vaccinated.

The airport hired four employees last month without knowing their vaccination status, airport officials acknowledged, although they were hired before it became clear the vaccinations would be mandated.

Print Headline: Get covid shot by Dec. 8 or lose job, LR airport employees told

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