Alaska Railroad board rescinds employee COVID vaccine mandate

A train goes over a creek in a mountainous area
The Alaska Railroad passenger train in Whittier, Alaska. (Photo by Ron Reiring/Wikimedia Commons)

The board of the Alaska Railroad has voted unanimously to rescind a requirement for all of its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Initially, railroad employees were supposed to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 to comply with vaccine requirements ordered by President Joe Biden that, in part, required vaccination for employees of contractors doing business with the federal government. The railroad is a federal contractor, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

An email sent to railroad employees last Friday said the railroad must meet the standard. But Tuesday’s board decision followed legal challenges that have been filed elsewhere seeking to block the federal mandate, Alaska Railroad spokesperson Tim Sullivan said.

The board could revisit its decision, depending on the outcome of the vaccine mandate legal challenges, he said.

Sullivan said nearly 53% of the railroad’s 692 employees are vaccinated.

Failure to comply with the vaccine mandate could cost the state-owned corporation millions of dollars in federal grants and contracts, and the space it leases from the U.S. Forest Service in Anchorage, Sullivan said.

Board members expressed reluctance to require vaccinations.

”We have one of our U.S. senators that has implored us and others within the state of Alaska not to make these decisions until there is more certainty on what direction is the country is headed on this,” board member John Binkley said, referring to comments made recently by Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.

”There just seems to be a lot of state of flux in terms of how this is going to manifest itself,” Binkley said.

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