Schumer: Use DOGS to keep airport security lines moving if vaccination rule creates staff shortage

Chuck Schumer has suggested using sniffer dogs to replace people at airports if the fast-approaching deadline for COVID vaccinations for all staff causes a shortage of workers.

The Senate Majority leader, who represents New York, told a press conference in Manhattan that he had a solution for Thanksgiving travel chaos. 

About 40 per cent of TSA workers are currently at risk of being fired for refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Approximately 24,000 employees, including some airport screeners, have until November 22 – the Monday before Thanksgiving – to get the shot or risk being fired under President Joe Biden‘s vaccine mandate for all federal workers.

But Schumer said he could avert chaos with the help of four-legged replacements for human staffers. 

‘If TSA lags in jabs, send in the dogs,’ he said.

‘There is no reason on God’s green Earth why anyone — let alone a TSA agent — shouldn’t have the vaccine.

‘Now if the agency plans now with contingencies, including the deployment of the canine dog teams, wherever the vaccine rates are impacting staffing and security, travel headaches can be avoided,’ Schumer said.

Chuck Schumer on Sunday (pictured) suggested the TSA ‘send in the dogs’ to replace workers who refused to get vaccinated, and were fired as a result

A bomb sniffer dog, Rufus, is seen at work in an airport in Arlington, Virginia. Schumer suggested the dogs could be more widely used

He said his idea ‘really works’ and should be seriously considered. 

‘The canine teams are really effective,’ he said. 

‘They can help secure national security and allow TSA agents to more effectively and efficiently screen individuals for explosives. It really works and moves the lines along.’

He added that the TSA should ‘particularly look at New York’ to try out his idea, given the large numbers of passengers passing through and the low vaccination rate among TSA workers in the city.

Schumer’s suggestion was widely mocked online. 

‘Fear not! Chuck Schumer has solved it. Dogs! (Not Babylon bee or onion),’ said one, referring to two satirical news websites.  

‘Can these dogs replace stupid Senators? @SenSchumer,’ another joked.

Another critic added: ‘To be fair, a dog would be a much better senator than Chuck Schumer.’    

Only about 60 percent of the TSA has been vaccinated, Transportation Safety Administrator David Pekoske told CNN on Wednesday

‘That number needs to go up quite a bit higher over the next few weeks.’

But meeting the deadline is already tight. 

The last possible date for a TSA agent to get a Pfizer vaccine is October 18, and the last day to get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine already passed on October 11. 

Pfizer requires a three-week waiting period between doses, and Moderna requires a four-week waiting time.

The last possible date to get a single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine is November 8 – two weeks before the deadline. 

Anyone without at least one shot could face disciplinary action as early as November 9, the Office of Personnel Management announced  October 1, noting that failure to comply with the federal mandate is an act of misconduct.

Approximately 24,000 TSA workers have until November 22 – the Monday before Thanksgiving – to get the COVID vaccine or risk being fired under President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for all federal workers

In order to meet the deadline, they have until October 18 to get their first Pfizer dose or November 8 to get a single Johnson and Johnson vaccine 

President Joe Biden said on Thursday that vaccine mandates should not divide people, as he warned that more directives for private businesses could be coming

The office recommended agencies begin to pursue ‘progressive discipline’ by November 9 for any employee who has not begun the vaccination process, according to Federal News Network.

‘Agencies are encouraged to consider whether lesser disciplinary penalties are adequate, as an initial matter, to encourage an employee to be vaccinated, such as a short suspension of 14 days or less,’ said an office official.

If the unvaccinated federal worker demonstrates at any point during the suspension that they are taking steps to comply with the mandate, though, the OPM says agencies should effectively pause disciplinary action and give them a deadline for receiving a final dose and providing proof of vaccination.

Once they have provided that proof, agencies should stop the disciplinary process. 

But if the temporary suspension does not compel the employee to get vaccinated, the OPM recommends agencies consider greater disciplinary measures – including termination. 

The office pointed to Mazares v Department of Navy, in which the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the Navy’s decision to fire two civilian employees who refused to get the anthrax vaccine before a deployment on a naval ship to Korea.

The court ruled at the time that the employees’ termination was not excessive as they were fired because they failed to obey a direct order from a supervisor.

In the interview with CNN, Pekoske said he is ‘very hopeful’ that the agency’s employees can meet the deadline, and there will not be worker shortages.

Still, he said: ‘We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that.’

He said he has been holding employee town halls to encourage TSA workers to get the vaccine so they will not be fired.

In total, the agency reports, more than 10,000 employees have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 30 deaths associated with COVID.

There are now 335 employees currently on leave with the virus. 

Nationwide, the CDC says the rate of transmission remains high, even as there were only 84,086 new cases reported nationwide on October 12, with 1,252 deaths.

About 65.6 percent of all Americans have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine as of Wednesday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, and 56.6 percent are fully vaccinated.

 TSA Administrator David Pekoske said he has been holding employee town halls to encourage TSA workers, like the screener seen here, to get the vaccine so they will not be fired

In total, the agency reports , more than 10,000 employees have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 30 deaths associated with COVID

Pekoske also said he has contingency plans in place to avoid long lines at the TSA screening checkpoints over the holiday season

Biden announced the mandate for all federal workers last month, and said on Thursday that vaccine mandates shouldn’t divide Americans.

He warned that more directives were coming for private businesses.

‘Let’s be clear, vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us,’ Biden said. 

‘That’s why I continue to battle the misinformation out there.’  

A proposed rule that would mandate vaccines for companies with more than 100 people is also moving forward, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration submitting the rule to the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday.

The rule will be implemented once OMB’s review is complete and it’s published in the Federal Register.

‘The Labor Department will soon issue an emergency rule for companies with 100 or more employees to implement vaccination requirements among their workforce,’ Biden said Thursday.  

White House press secretary Jen Psaki wouldn’t give a timeline when asked about the rule on Wednesday.

‘We don’t, as a … longstanding practice, comment on the timeline of how long that takes because we want to allow that process to happen,’ she answered. 

‘But, you know, it should be an indication that it’s there and now it is being reviewed. 

‘And once it is finalized and through the [Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] process and review, it will be posted publicly in the Federal Register and you will all have access to every detail of it.’ 

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC on Tuesday he believes businesses should not impose COVID vaccine mandates on their employers.

‘I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of mandate,’ he said. ‘I’m not in favor of that, never have been.

‘But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines have to have a mandate in place by December 8, so we’re working through that.’

He said the week before, that 56,000 employees still had to be vaccinated in accordance with the mandate.

The announcement came just a few days after Southwest Airlines had to cancel almost 2,000 flights over the weekend.

Mike Van de Ven, the president of the airline, told employees in a video on Sunday that staffing shortages were to blame. 

The airline, meanwhile, initially told the public that air traffic control issues in Florida caused the problem, but the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) then issued a statement saying there were problems for a few hours on Friday, but not at the weekend. 

Furious passengers said that they were told in airports that the cancellations were due to Southwest employees walking out in protest at the airline’s decision to enforce COVID-19 vaccinations.

But the airline said that that was not the case, and that poor weather in Jacksonville, Florida, sparked a cascading effect. 

‘Southwest Airlines extends a tremendous apology to our Customers and Employees for the flight cancellations and delays which occurred over the weekend and on Monday,’ the airline said.

‘On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday. 

‘Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday.

‘Southwest Teams have been working diligently to restore stability to the network, and we are experiencing less disruptions on Monday. We hope to restore our full schedule as soon as possible. 

‘As a note, the operational challenges were not a result of Southwest Employee demonstrations.’ 

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