Union members protest vaccination mandate

Eric Prestonof the International Chemical Workers Union Local 261C protests a mandate from Northrop Grumman requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

CUMBERLAND — Members of a union working for Northrop Grumman are protesting a mandate from the company requiring all workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8.

On Friday afternoon, roughly 100 union members carrying signs stood along U.S. Route 220 across from the Northrop Grumman plant in Rocket Center, West Virginia, protesting the mandate.

Thomas “Buddy” Vanmeter, president of the International Chemical Workers Union Local 261C, said he received word late yesterday that vaccinations will be required.

The company is a federal contractor and falls under the Biden administration’s federal worker vaccination mandate.

According to Vanmeter, workers have until the end of October to get their first shot and no later than Nov. 24 to get a second shot, or to have received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot.

“It’s about freedom of choice; my body, my choice,” said Vanmeter, who was with protesters on Friday. “We are out here protesting this mandate for the vaccinations that the government enforced on federal contractors. Our company, Northrop Grumman, mandated the vaccination for employees, staff and union, and we are out here protesting for everybody across the country against this mandated vaccination.”

Vanmeter said the union represents about 700 workers at Northrop Grumman of about 2,000 total employees.

“I feel that every individual, vaccinated or not, it’s your choice. We have people out here (protesting) who are vaccinated and they are standing out here now. It is your choice, not the government or my company.”

Randy Shrout, Local 261C vice president, also attended the protest.

“If someone got the vaccine, I’m OK with that,” said Shrout. “I just don’t feel that vaccine is for me. You shouldn’t be forced to have it. We are not saying Northrop Grumman is a bad company. We are just saying right now, this is a bad deal all around. It’s not only for us but the others. We are saying, it’s OK to stand up for your rights and we feel they are trying to take our rights from us.”

Vanmeter said he hasn’t heard what the repercussions will be if employees refuse to be vaccinated.

“It says we all have to be vaccinated by Dec. 8,” said Vanmeter. “I am waiting to see what happens if we do not get the vaccination. I have not gotten any response back from human resources.”

The Chemicals Workers Union merged with the International Food Commercial workers in 1996.

“We have a pretty strong union and we represent the staff people just as well and the health care workers and everybody across the country,” said Vanmeter. “We had wanted to have testing (for COVID) but they told us testing is not an option. We feel we have to do what’s right.”

According to the Mineral County Health Department, there were 177 active COVID-19 cases in Mineral County on Friday.

In neighboring Allegany County, coronavirus case and positivity rates remained more than doubled Maryland’s state averages Friday.

Just over 41% of Mineral County residents are vaccinated against the coronavirus. In Allegany County, that number is 45.1%.

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter.

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Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter @greglarryctn.