Union argues Sea-Tac Airport faces staffing shortage from vaccine mandate

Photo credit: Timo Breidenstein//Wikimedia Commons (GFDL 1.2)

A local union says Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is facing a staffing shortage due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and may impact public safety during the busy holiday season.

The Port of Seattle requires its employees to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 by Nov. 15, nearly a month after the state's mandate went into effect. Two-dose mRNA vaccines require a three- to four-week pause between shots, and employees who have started the vaccination process are on temporary leave while they wait.

With Port of Seattle Police down 14 officers and three traffic support specialists, the Teamsters Local Union 117 says the public will be put at risk during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.

RELATED: TSA vaccination rate could impact holiday travel at Sea-Tac Airport

The union argues that, since mRNA vaccines have an 80% effectiveness at preventing COVID-19 just two weeks after the first dose, employees waiting on their second dose should be allowed to return to work while they continue the vaccination process.

"The vaccine mandate you unilaterally imposed on your employees and your intransigence over allowing Port of Seattle [staff,] who have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, to work are putting your employees and the public at great risk during the holidays," wrote the union in a letter to Port of Seattle Executive Director Stephen Metruck. "Record numbers of people will be traveling through SeaTac airport next week. The number of Port of Seattle Police employees who are fully vaccinated is insufficient to meet safe staffing levels for these volumes."

While the partially-vaccinated employees will be required to stay at home, the union argues fully-vaccinated employees will likely have to work more hours to meet the demands of the travel season.

"These employees – the ones who responsibly got vaccinated - will likely be forced to work eighty hours per week or more, which necessarily results in fatigue, impaired judgment, and greater risk of illness due to lower immune systems," the union wrote. "Lower staffing and fatigued staff will result in longer response times in an environment that is already fraught due to heavy travel volume and reduced security check points."

Two weeks after the second dose of an mRNA COVID vaccine, the effectiveness rises from 80% to more than 90%, but the union says 80% is still a ‘meaningful level of immunity.’

"The Port of Seattle must take immediate steps to protect Port of Seattle staff and the traveling public," said union Secretary-Treasurer John Scearcy. "The Port has an obligation to provide a safe work environment for our members and to ensure safety and security for holiday travelers at Sea-Tac Airport. With current staffing shortages, they are not fulfilling that essential public safety obligation."

Sea-Tac Airport says this simply is not the case. According to a spokesperson, 97% of Port of Seattle employees are either vaccinated, getting vaccinated, on leave or have been accommodated. The airport assures customers they have appropriate staffing, even for the high-volume holidays, and that safety is their first priority.

RELATED: King County judge upholds Port of Seattle’s vaccine mandate

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