Amtrak on Tuesday temporarily suspended its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees in an effort to avoid having to cut services. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Amtrak on Tuesday announced that it has temporarily suspended its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all employees in order to avoid cutting services.
The company will revert to a previous policy and allow employees to opt into weekly testing rather than get vaccinated in order to report to work Amtrak CEO William J. Flynn said in a memo to employees obtained by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In the memo, Flynn cited a federal judge's decision last week to block President Joe Biden's COVID-19 mandate for federal contractors.
"This caused the company to reevaluate our policy and to address the uncertainty about the federal requirements that apply to Amtrak," he wrote.
Flynn added that 95.7% of Amtrak workers are either fully vaccinated or have an accomodation providing an exemption and only 500 employees remain unvaccinated.
"This is remarkable progress," he said. "And we anticipate that between now and Jan. 4, we will get even closer to a 100% vaccination rate, which remains our goal and policy."
Employees who fail to comply with the new policy will be placed on unpaid leave and Amtrak officials will continue to update the vaccine policies "as needed" moving forward.
Flynn said the new policy will prevent Amtrak from needing to cut service next month after Amtrak President Stephen J. Gardner said the company expected to scale back service due to the unvaccinated workers.
Jim Matthews, president and chief executive officer of the Rail Passengers Association said he would prefer all Amtrak employees be vaccinated but acknowledged its progress thus far.
"This addresses the issue without compromising safety," Matthews said. "Everyone, crews and passengers, is safest if everyone is vaccinated. But Amtrak reached huge numbers of vaccinations within their staffs, and that's to their credit."