Amtrak: Updated Vaccine Policy Allows Employee Testing, Eliminates Service ImpactsWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
In a Dec. 14 memo to employees, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn reported that the railroad will “revert to our original vaccine mandate policy announced on Aug. 11, which will allow, on an interim basis, for testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated” against COVID-19.
On Dec. 7, a U.S. District Court judge issued a nationwide stay of an Executive Order requiring government contractors—like Amtrak and some freight railroads—to adopt COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The ruling prompted BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific to halt their mandates on Dec. 8. But Amtrak did not—at first. As Railway Age reported, Amtrak wrote in a Dec. 9 employee memo: “While Amtrak acknowledges this [court] decision, the company also affirms its right to have its own policy in place. As a reminder, Amtrak first announced its vaccine mandate on Aug. 11, which pre-dates the administration’s [September] Executive Order for federal contractors. Accordingly, Amtrak’s vaccination mandate deadline remains Jan. 4, 2022.”
That memo also warned employees of service impacts: “We anticipate we will initially not have enough employees to operate all the trains we are currently operating after our mandate deadline of Jan. 4. As a result, we will have to implement temporary frequency reductions, primarily for our Long Distance services. Our Long Distance service line is most impacted because of the relatively small crew bases at intermediate points along multi-day Long Distance routes where conductors and engineers report to work. At some of these crew bases across our network, we have a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated employees.”
Now that Amtrak is allowing employee testing as an alternative to vaccination, “we do not anticipate having system-wide service impacts in January,” Flynn wrote in his Dec. 14 memo.
Railway Age reproduces the Dec. 14 memo, in its entirety, here:
COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate – Testing Option Now Temporarily Available
A Message From Bill Flynn
To All Amtrak Employees,
The safety and health of all Amtrak employees and customers are the key goals for our company. This commitment has guided our actions since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amtrak has adopted policies informed by our own consulting public health experts, followed all official guidance and complied with regulations and official direction, including the Executive Order for mandatory vaccines.
Once vaccines became available and prioritized for essential workers, Amtrak’s objective has been to get all of our employees vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. When we established a mandate in August, our team’s vaccination percentage was approximately 50%. We adjusted the mandate when the Executive Order was issued in September for federal employees and contractors. Today, 95.7% of our employees are either fully vaccinated or have an accommodation. When we include employees who have reported getting at least one vaccine dose, this number climbs to 97.3%.
Currently, fewer than 500 active Amtrak employees are not in compliance with the company mandate. This is remarkable progress – and we anticipate that between now and Jan. 4, we will get even closer to a 100% vaccination rate, which remains our goal and our policy. This high rate of compliance makes us a leader in employee vaccination rates. We thank everyone who has received the vaccination.
Recently a federal district court decision halted the enforcement of the Executive Order for federal contractors. This caused the company to reevaluate our policy and to address the uncertainty about the federal requirements that apply to Amtrak.
Amtrak is announcing today that we will revert to our original vaccine mandate policy announced on August 11, which will allow, on an interim basis, for testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated.
As a result, Amtrak will offer testing for those employees who have already received an accommodation to our vaccine policy and for those currently unvaccinated employees. This will be in effect while the Executive Order is not being enforced. The approach Amtrak is taking is similar to many companies across various industries.
- Amtrak will allow employees who have accommodations to continue working, as long as they submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly or more frequently, as required. This testing option, like all approved accommodations, is subject to review and reassessment, but is expected to remain available regardless of the outcome of the executive order litigation.
- For unvaccinated employees without an approved accommodation, Amtrak will provide the testing option on a temporary basis, pending the outcome of the executive order litigation or further statutory, administrative or regulatory actions. The company will provide more details on its testing program soon.
- Employees who are required to submit testing and fail to do so will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence initially. Prolonged failure to submit to testing will be considered insubordinate, potentially resulting in termination of employment.
- After reviewing our system service plans in light of these changes, we do not anticipate having system-wide service impacts in January.
Amtrak will continue to update its vaccine policy as needed and follow the latest health and safety guidance. We believe these most recent changes are both appropriate and prudent, given the recent court decision and the continuing and evolving pandemic.
On behalf of your colleagues and our customers, thank you once again to everyone who has gotten vaccinated to keep themselves and everyone around us safe. For those not yet vaccinated, please consider doing so, as our nation braces for a possible new wave of infection resulting from the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Amtrak Chief Executive Officer