Thousands of government employees are challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers and contractors.
Feds for Medical Freedom is a new grassroots organization behind three separate legal challenges to the mandate, which bind about seven million employees, according to the plaintiffs’ estimates. The group is attacking the mandate in different courts on different grounds while airing allegations of coercion and harassment on the part of colleagues and government officials. The plaintiffs could obtain an order pausing the mandate, at least in part, as soon as this week.
Apart from the federal employees mandate, President Joe Biden is pushing business leaders to mandate vaccinations after the Supreme Court blocked his vaccine-or-test rule for businesses with more than 100 workers. The White House will use pressure and persuasion in tandem, an approach White House press secretary Jen Psaki telegraphed at a Thursday press briefing.
"In this pandemic, it is up to individual employers to determine whether their workplaces will be safe for employees and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers," Psaki told reporters.
Feds for Medical Freedom commands support from workers in almost every federal entity, as well as overseas diplomatic posts and military installations. The group’s ranks have swelled past 6,000 since its September launch. The founding nucleus consisted of a small network of State Department and Customs and Border Protection employees. Feds for Medical Freedom has no paid staffers, the organization told the Washington Free Beacon.
In legal filings, the group estimates that there are about 330,000 unvaccinated federal employees and another 790,000 unvaccinated federal contractors. Those figures are based on the size of each respective workforce and the percentage of unvaccinated adults.
Feds for Medical Freedom is the lead plaintiff in a challenge to the mandate at a federal court in Galveston, Texas, and its members are involved with two other challenges before federal trial courts in Florida and Washington, D.C.
Each lawsuit makes different claims. The plaintiffs in D.C. are attacking the mandate based on federal laws that protect employee health and ban discrimination against people with perceived disabilities. The plaintiffs say the government and its contractors are violating that prohibition because they’re punishing the unvaccinated based only on the assumption that they’ll contract COVID and endanger their colleagues.
The Texas lawsuit contends that the Biden administration has no authority to issue a vaccine mandate. Much like the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling halting the big business mandate, the Texas suit argues Congress has never empowered the White House to order vaccinations.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown in Galveston is expected to rule on the plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction this week. His decision can be appealed to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Feds for Medical Freedom president Marcus Thornton, a former Border Patrol agent who serves in the State Department as a political officer, said dissenters had to stand up to their own organization because public employee unions are refusing to protect their own. It’s an unusual posture for the unions, which are usually fiercely protective of civil servants.
"Unfortunately in this circumstance, most labor organizations have chosen to put political considerations ahead of protecting the interests of the members they represent," said Thornton, who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon in his personal capacity.
Thornton told the Free Beacon some federal employees and contractors have already stepped down to avoid hostile work environments and legal uncertainty. And he warned that some covered employees will follow suit rather than comply, compromising federal expertise. In the related litigation over Biden’s big business mandate, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration forecasted that 1 to 3 percent of unvaccinated workers would quit rather than comply with compulsory testing and immunization.
"If you take that sort of experience out of the workforce, it’s going to take years to try and replace it," Thornton said. "And not only to replace the employees, but to build up the experience that the government would be losing."
One member and named plaintiff in the group’s lawsuit is Mark Canales, who works for the Nuclear Waste Partnership, which stores radioactive waste for the Department of Energy. Another, Patrick Wright, is a Justice Department employee and bomb technician for the FBI. Neither Canales nor Wright have disclosed their vaccination status.
The group also functions as a clearinghouse for information about workplace harassment and disparate treatment related to vaccination status. In one representative episode, a foreign affairs professional referred to unvaccinated diplomatic personnel as "plague rats" in a closed Facebook group called Trailing Houses. Access is limited to foreign affairs professionals and immediate family members.
Filings from the Florida lawsuit were not immediately available. The D.C. case is Altschuld v. Raimondo and the Texas case is Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden.