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President Biden is ordering federal employees and contractors to attest that they're vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to frequent testing. The new policy covers the country's 4 million federal civilian workers and contractors, and the unions that represent those workers are divided over the president's directive. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: As cities reimpose mask mandates and millions of Americans continue to refuse to be vaccinated, the Biden administration is turning to the nation's federal workforce to slow the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. Paul Shearon, the head of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers - which represents some 25,000 federal employees and agencies, including NASA - thinks the directive is a good idea.
PAUL SHEARON: We are strongly supportive of mandated vaccines for federal workers.
NAYLOR: Shearon says that's as long as there are medical and religious exemptions. But he says everyone deserves a safe workplace.
SHEARON: We have well over 600,000 people who are currently dead. We also have a variant of COVID that is running rampant that is highly infectious. And we want to make sure that we maintain a healthy work environment for the people that we represent and all federal workers, for that matter.
NAYLOR: But other groups have problems with the Biden administration's new rule. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association issued a statement saying it was concerned by any move that would mandate the vaccine and that, quote, "forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation." Ralph De Juliis heads the union that represents some Social Security Administration employees.
RALPH DE JULIIS: Everyone is concerned because it's a change and it's unknown. The people who have got vaccinated think it's a great thing because now when they have - when they do have to go into the offices, they know that there's less chance of catching something from a co-worker.
NAYLOR: But De Juliis says workers who aren't vaccinated are very, very concerned. He says the government is going to need to encourage those workers.
DE JULIIS: There hopefully will be some sort of incentive. It will not be stick 'cause having that (laughter) Q-tip shoved up your nose periodically if you don't get the vaccine - that's more of a stick rather than an incentive.
NAYLOR: The American Postal Workers Union also issued a statement saying, it's not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent. But it seems clear from recent court rulings that employers, including the federal government, do have the right to mandate vaccines to their employees. In fact, the Veterans Administration has already put its mandate into effect. But it also seems clear that there's going to be plenty of pushback from some federal workers to the new requirement. Brian Naylor, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.