Mandates have proven to be a successful but divisive means of persuading vaccine-averse Americans to get their vaccinations.
However, as the Biden Administration has stepped up its efforts to mandate COVID-19 vaccination—including proposing a rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to do so—opposition to mandates is proving to be an essential credential for showcasing leaders’ conservative credentials for some Republicans.
On Oct. 11, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has opposed masking but has recently come under fire from a Republican political rival for allegedly failing to push back hard enough on federal vaccine mandates, issued an executive order prohibiting any “entity” in Texas from mandating vaccination for people who object to the vaccine for any reason, including “personal conscience.”
Representatives for high-profile firms in Texas told TIME that they believe federal law, as well as the safety of their employees and customers, outweighs Abbott’s directive. Those that already mandate vaccinations for their employees have no plans to change their minds.
Dell, situated in Round Rock, Texas, and with $92.2 billion in revenue last year, is asking employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing in order to work in the office. “Any employee or contractor who has difficulty complying with the policy will have the opportunity to work remotely, depending on their job,” the business said in a statement to TIME on Oct. 12. “We feel that this policy gives everyone who works for or with Dell a variety of options and allows us to maintain safe working conditions around the world.”
All direct employees of government contractors must get vaccinated by Dec. 8, or acquire a medical or religious exemption, according to IBM, which has significant offices in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio and reported revenue of $73.6 billion last year. In a response to TIME, IBM said, “We will continue to protect the health and safety of IBM employees and clients, and we will continue to follow federal standards.”
The airline sector, which has been a vocal supporter of vaccine regulations, has also refused to budge. According to Bloomberg, American Airlines, the country’s largest airline, which has its headquarters in Fort Worth, believes the pending federal rule “supersedes any conflicting state legislation.”
By November 24, the firm expects all staff to be fully immunized. In a response to TIME, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines echoed American Airlines, stating, “federal action outweighs any state regulation or legislation, and as a federal contractor, we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant.” Employees at Southwest must be immunized by December 8.
Other groups were more cautious in their response to Abbott’s edict. Chevron, one of the world’s major oil firms with facilities in Texas, told TIME that its employees who travel abroad, work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, or work aboard tankers must be vaccinated. However, the company stated in a statement that because the federal rule has not yet been formally released, “it is premature to say what impact it will have on our operations.”
“We attempt to remain in compliance with all federal, state, and local laws to the extent that they are not in conflict,” the statement continued. “When a new law takes effect, we assess our procedures and make any required changes.”
Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, which already requires vaccinations for its personnel, told TIME that it is examining Abbott’s decision but reaffirmed its commitment to vaccination, citing the fact that many of the women and children it treats are immunocompromised. In a statement to TIME, a spokeswoman said, “We support the ability of private companies to decide the best immunization policy for their operations and employee safety.”
In March, Houston Methodist announced an employee vaccine mandate and fought back against a lawsuit from employees who objected; in June, more than 153 people out of a staff of 26,000 quit or were dismissed after failing to be vaccinated by a final deadline. Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, told TIME that because the hospital adopted the regulation early, it will not be affected by the order right away because most of its personnel have already been vaccinated. However, he said that the hospital system is looking into the executive order to see what it means.
“With this executive order, we are concerned about other Texas hospitals that may not be able to maintain their mandates,” Boom added. “All health-care workers have a responsibility to provide safe care to their patients, and this directive makes that promise more difficult.”