Eastman Chemical Company

Eastman Chemical Co. Eastman’s Texas Operations just outside Longview employs almost 1,500 people.

Waiting.

That’s what some of the area’s largest employers say they are doing — waiting for final direction from federal regulators before determining how they will respond to possible employee requirements for COVID-19 vaccination or testing.

“We understand that the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing and will soon issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that will require regular COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees of companies with more than 100 employees,” said Kristin Parker, spokeswoman for Eastman Chemical Co. Eastman’s Texas Operations just outside Longview, which employs almost 1,500 people.

“Until OSHA releases this ETS, we are unable to make further comments about its impact on our team members. Once the ETS is issued, we will gather all relevant information available and determine what these new rules mean for our company and team members throughout the U.S.”

However, Parker said the company has no plans at this time to make vaccinations mandatory for employees.

“We continue to encourage vaccination as the safest and most effective way to prevent complications and hospitalization from COVID-19, and we continue to see the percentages of fully vaccinated team members increase company-wide, including in Longview,” she said. “We have held onsite vaccination clinics and have offered several educational opportunities for our team members to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines to help them make their decision.”

In Texas, the looming federal mandates will be measured against an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott banning any entity, including private companies, from issuing vaccine mandates for employees or customers.

Longview Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kelly Hall said companies with more than 100 employees have reached out to her seeking guidance. She refers them to the Society for Human Resource Management, which has issued some recommendations for companies.

“Currently, companies are watching to see if ETS passes in its current form. There are many concerns with the existing OSHA recommendations,” Hall said. “While our team is in D.C. on Nov. 2 and 3, we will be visiting with elected leaders and policy groups about this issue.”

It is confusing, Hall said, to understand the governor’s executive order weighed against the potential of the federal vaccination/testing mandate.

“Yet, I believe the supremacy clause of the constitution of the United States is pretty clear (Article VI, Clause 2),” she said, referencing the part of the U.S. Constitution that generally gives federal law authority over the states.

An article on the Society for Human Resource Management agrees, saying, “When employers are covered by conflicting federal and state laws, the federal rules will generally pre-empt state law.”

“Bottom line, companies care about their employees. Human capital is our No. 1 asset,” Hall said. “Companies want to keep employees safe and employed. Balancing the COVID disruption has been and continues to be challenging.”

Tyler-based Brookshire Grocery Co. is evaluating all of those pieces of the puzzle, according to company representative Morgan Countryman. The company has more than 1,600 employees.

“As an essential business through the ongoing pandemic, Brookshire Grocery Company’s top priority is the health and safety of our employee-partners, customers and communities,” Countryman said. “Our company leaders are evaluating the recent federal mandate and actions by our state governor while waiting for further guidance from OSHA before finalizing our company position.

“The company’s focus will remain on the safety and well-being of our partners, customers and communities we serve while dealing with pandemic issues”

Tyler Pipe General Manager Greg Simmons said the company does not require employees to be vaccinated but would continue to monitor all local, state and federal COVID-19 activity.

“Tyler Pipe continues to place the safety and well-being of our team members and community in the forefront of our COVID-19 response,” he said. “Since the start of the pandemic, our protocols have closely followed CDC and OSHA guidelines and have ensured our ability to work and grow while effectively reducing risk to our team and their families.”

Longview Regional Medical Center also has not made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory, said spokeswoman Libby Bryson. However, the hospital, which employs close to 1,200 people, does require everyone in a “health care setting” to use face masks.

“We will work to comply with the president’s order requiring COVID-19 vaccination and look forward to receiving further guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) about its implementation …,” Bryson said. “A majority of our caregivers have chosen — and some are continuing to choose — to be vaccinated. To ensure the safety of our patients, colleagues and others, last month we began routine COVID-19 testing of all unvaccinated hospital and clinic staff.”

TriMas, the parent company of Norris Cylinder in Longview, said the company that employs about 160 people will review the OSHA standards to determine how it applies to the company.

“With respect to the vaccine mandate, like all U.S. companies with more than 100 employees, we plan to follow federal or state laws, as appropriate,” said Sherry Lauderback, TriMas vice president of investor relations and communications.

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