Just Half of Workers at Two Critical Shipyards Are Vaccinated
The sobering numbers offer a snapshot of defense contractors’ struggle to get workers vaccinated.
Only about half of the workers at two of the Navy’s shipbuilders are vaccinated against COVID-19, top executives from the two companies said.
The sobering numbers, which were revealed during Defense One’s State of the Navy event Thursday morning, offer a snapshot of defense contractors’ struggle to get workers vaccinated. The Biden administration is expected to release vaccination guidelines for federal contractors on Friday.
“We're waiting to see what either the [Federal Acquisition Regulations] or the OSHA rules, once promulgated, do,” said Mark Vandroff, CEO of Fincantieri Marinette Marine. “That would give us additional requirements and potentially additional authorities, since right now we can't force our employees to be vaccinated.”
The Wisconsin shipyard, which borders Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, makes Freedom-class littoral combat ships. Last year, it won a contract to build Constellation-class frigates for the Navy. It also builds warships for Saudi Arabia.
“Right now, we're masked when we're around other people when we're not outdoors,” Vandroff said. “We'll keep that mask requirement in place for as long as we remain a high transmission area.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 330 of the shipyard’s 1,350 workers—about 25 percent of the workforce—have been infected with COVID-19, Vandroff said. None have died.
“North of 50 percent” of workers at Marinette Marine are vaccinated, Vandroff said. That’s slightly more than the general population of Marinette County itself.
The company has offered workers free vaccines at the shipyard. Workers are also given paid time off to get vaccinated, Vanddroff said.
“We're going to continue to make vaccines available to our workforce and continue to urge that,” he said.
Meanwhile, at General Dynamics Electric Boat, the employee vaccination rate “is in the neighborhood of about 50 percent,” according to Kevin Graney, the company’s president.
Electric Boat—which builds Virginia-class and Columbia-class nuclear submarines—employs more than 14,000 workers, most of whom work in Groton, Connecticut, and Quonset Point, Rhode Island. That’s far below the average in the surrounding New London and Washington counties, where the overall vaccine rate is 69 percent, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker.
“We're continuing to make sure that [vaccines are] available to everyone,” Graney said.
Graney said workers at Electric Boat’s Connecticut and Rhode Island facilities are required to wear masks indoors.
Many Navy shipbuilding are located in states and counties with low vaccination rates. For instance, Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding is in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the vaccination rate is 37 percent. HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding is located in a community that has a 45 percent vaccination level. The vaccine rate in Mobile, Alabama, where Austal USA builds the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship, is 41 percent.
The Pentagon has mandated COVID-19 vaccines for all uniformed military personnel; all federal civilian workers must be vaxxed by November. Guidance for contractors is expected to be announced on Friday.
“We'll see what OSHA and what the [federal acquisition regulations] does as far as additional rules, and we'll be ready to comply with those rules,” Vandroff said.
The United Launch Alliance was the first major defense contractor to require employees to get vaccinations.
Leidos has said its employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or provide a negative COVID-19 test result to gain access to a company facility, a company spokesman said.