The Commonwealth Ports Authority is looking at requiring all its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a safety precaution.
According to CPA board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds, CPA wants their approximately 210 employees to be vaccinated to protect them and the community as they are at the front of the line once tourism picks back up in the CNMI.
The CPA board will still have to discuss this further, though. King-Hinds said the board will meet this Friday to discuss the matter and vote on whether or not to require all employees to be vaccinated.
“Our health is our wealth and the only way at this point that we can protect our employees and our community is if we drive home the importance of getting everyone vaccinated. CPA employees, whether they be first responders or administrative support, are at the front-line by virtue of their place of employment. Our airports and the seaports are first points of entry in the CNMI and, as we slowly open up those points of entries, we have a duty to ensure that all our employees are safe and protected,” she said.
And the best way to protect the community, according to experts, is by creating herd immunity through community-wide inoculation, King-Hinds said.
However, she understands that there will be some exceptions. “I understand the hesitancy, especially from those who have underlying health issues so there will be exceptions for that,” she said.
The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. clarified that it’s up to an employer if they want to make the vaccination mandatory so employees can return to work, but there are some exemptions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s COVID-19 guidance states that employers may implement mandatory vaccination polices once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available, but any policy must meet certain requirements under federal anti-discrimination laws. This includes discrimination against employees and job applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.
In addition, pursuant to the EEOC rule, employers may require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine before reporting to work but employers must consider accommodations for workers who refuse to get vaccinated due to a medical disability or “sincerely held religious belief.”
According to Saipan Tribune archives, CPA employees will remain furloughed—the term CPA uses to refer to reduced hours—which mean all employees are working on a reduced hour work schedule indefinitely because of the drastic decline following the halt of the tourism industry.
All employees, except for critical employees, remain furloughed in order to avoid a reduction-in-force. An RIF means a position is eliminated with no plans to fill it back up.
Effective last March 29, 2020, all CPA employees were reduced to a 64-hour work schedule.
Back on Feb. 14, the board approved a 72-hour work schedule for all employees, reducing by eight hours the work-hours of employees per pay period.
CPA estimates a total revenue loss at $6,478,735 in 2020 due to flights suspensions.