StarKist quietly mandates vaccination for eligible employees
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — StarKist Samoa, the territory’s largest private employer, has started enforcing a full COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its more than 2,000 workers while the U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put on hold a temporary vaccination rule for employers with more than 100 workers, as legal challenges proceed through the federal court system.
Samoa News received information last month from cannery workers and/or their family members that StarKist Samoa management had early in the month informed all workers of the new mandate for full vaccination and were given a deadline for compliance.
According to some cannery workers or family members, the company’s more than 2,000 workforce must show proof that they've been fully vaccinated by providing their COVID-19 vaccination card, which is issued and stamped by the ASG Health Department.
Upon showing such proof, the cannery will then issue to these employees a new “security badge clearing them to enter the plant and this was enforced starting Monday” this week, say cannery workers and/or their family members.
Additionally, there are exemptions. Only those with exemptions from doctors like those breastfeeding or other medical reasons are exempted from the mandate.
Some cannery workers who spoke with Samoa News say that they haven’t heard of any opposition to the mandate and that workers, have been cooperative since last year on all health mandate policies, such as wearing masks inside the plant.
“For me, and many workers, there is no problem with complying as a requirement. Better safe for everyone,” said one of the long time workers, whose view was echoed by other workers. “And besides, we need the job, with the Christmas holiday coming up.”
StarKist Co., corporate office didn’t immediately reply to Samoa News questions sent two weeks ago regarding the StarKist Samoa mandate, or penalty for non-compliance.
The U.S based company’s corporate spokesperson Michelle Faist did release to Samoa News on Monday this week, a one-sentence statement: “StarKist will comply with all applicable laws, regulations and executive orders, including those related to COVID-19 safety protocols.”
The StarKist statement may be in response to Samoa News queries early last month, after OSHA, the regulatory arm of the U.S Labor Department announced on Nov. 5th a new Emergency Temporary Standard on Vaccination and Testing rule.
The OSHA rule states in part that employers with at least 100 employees will be required to adopt a mandatory vaccination policy unless they adopt a policy requiring unvaccinated workers to undergo weekly testing and wearing a face covering at work.
“Covered employers must provide paid time for workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine and ensure workers have paid sick leave to recover from any side effects that prevent them from working,” according to the temporary rule, in which employers must comply with most provisions by 30 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register, and comply with the testing requirement by 60 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.
OSHA was also accepting comment through Jan. 19, 2022 but the rule is now on hold after it was challenged in federal court by employers in the U.S. On Nov. 12th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a motion to stay OSHA's COVID-19 rule.
The court ordered that OSHA "take no steps to implement or enforce" the rule "until further court order,” according to OSHA’s public information online. Additionally, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit now has jurisdiction over challenges and USDOL has filed a motion to lift the stay.
“While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS [rule] pending future developments in the litigation,” according to an OHSA statement, which also says that the public comment period is separate from the litigation.
Details of the ETA rule can be found on the federal portal [www.regulations.gov] and that’s also where the public can post comments.
StarKist Samoa has joined ASG’s Executive Branch in mandating full vaccination for workers. Provisions of the current COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, mandates all Executive Branch employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15th with proof submitted to Human Resources Department. The declaration provides exemptions, in accordance with local law.
Other local companies have also mandated that all their employees get vaccinated.