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Amtrak is no longer expecting service to be disrupted in the new year after announcing it will allow unvaccinated employees to remain working if they test regularly for the coronavirus.
The railway company had been expecting to cut back the frequency of service in January after discovering roughly 5% of its workers were running out of time to comply with a federal vaccine mandate requiring all federal contractors to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.
Plans changed after a federal judge ruling last week halted the enforcement of President Joe Biden’s executive order.
“This caused the company to reevaluate our policy and to address the uncertainty about the federal requirements that apply to Amtrak,” according to a letter to employees signed by Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. “After reviewing our system service plans in light of these changes, we do not anticipate having system-wide service impacts in January.”
Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden boards his train at Amtrak’s Pittsburgh Train Station in Pittsburgh on Sept. 30, 2020. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)
The company plans to revert to its original vaccine mandate policy announced in early August, which allows testing as an alternative to vaccination. The less stringent policy will remain in effect while the executive order is not being enforced.
Most unvaccinated Amtrak employees will be able to continue working if they test negative for the virus weekly – if not more frequently – “on a temporary basis,” pending the outcome of the litigation.
Unvaccinated workers who are exempt from the vaccination policy will also need to test regularly, but are expected to be able to continue to work by regularly showing proof of a negative test, regardless of the court’s final decision on the executive order.
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Unvaccinated employees who fail to submit their test results will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence. If they continue to ignore the testing requirement, they could permanently lose their job, according to Flynn’s letter.
Amtrak estimates that 97.3% of its workforce has at least one dose of a COVID vaccine and 95.7% is fully vaccinated, leaving fewer than 500 active employees who have not complied with the vaccine mandate. These figures do not include workers who have an approved exemption to the vaccination policy.
“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,” Flynn said. He added that Amtrak will provide more details on its testing program “soon.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.