Liberty is not a word we hear often, and it’s not a concept we generally explore. We hear the words of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” or Thomas Jefferson’s, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but even then, we usually ascribe an abstract or ethereal definition to the word. It is rare that modern Americans truly get an intuitive sense of this concept. Unfortunately, since September 2021, many of us have been given a tough reminder of the importance of liberty.
On September 9, 2021, President Joe Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 14042, which required that all federal contracts be updated to adhere to the guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (the “Task Force”). The Task Force enacted a provision soon after that requires all Federal Government contractors and subcontractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Not only does this requirement affect employees who directly support the federal government, but it extends to anyone who supports them, such as HR personnel. IBM (along with many other companies) decided that it was not feasible to delineate who falls under the mandate and who does not, and has therefore required all of its US employees to be vaccinated.
In accordance with this new requirement, on October 7, 2021, Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM, announced:
President Biden recently issued an executive order mandating COVID-19 vaccines for federal contractors. As a federal contractor, it is a business imperative for IBM to comply with this mandate. In light of this requirement, the policies of many of our clients and partners, and the easy access to vaccines around the country, we will now require all IBM U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021, in order to work at IBM.
This policy applies to all U.S. IBMers, regardless of where you work (at an IBM or client site) and how often you come into an IBM or client office.
The message was clear: Get vaccinated, justify a religious or medical accommodation, or be put on unpaid leave. This mandate was enacted regardless of whether an employee worked on federal contracts or where he or she worked (i.e., permanently from home). Many of us had already determined that we would not get vaccinated, but now the stakes became real. For months, our decision was our own; we were at liberty to freely follow our religious convictions and/or look at the available data about the vaccine – to assess the risks, benefits, and morality – to judge whether taking the vaccine was the right choice for each of us. That was no longer the case: Now duress and coercion had entered the picture.
Within a few days, though, many of us found one another and started to group together. We formed an action committee and started drafting a petition for a redress of grievances to be delivered to Arvind. On November 1st, we delivered the petition, along with 348 signatures. Two days later, we were contacted by a senior member of the IBM executive team to discuss the petition. We talked about the purpose of the petition, but we were told in no uncertain terms, “the mandate was not changing.” The following day, we received a formal rejection of the petition from Arvind, which stated in part:
I acknowledge the opposition to this decision by those signed onto the petition. This is a difficult situation, and this policy decision was not made lightly…. Each U.S. IBMer has been given a choice to get vaccinated, seek a medical or religious accommodation, or go on unpaid leave…. My hope is that you and others remain active IBMers by getting fully vaccinated or by obtaining approved accommodations.
In response, we emailed the same petition – this time with 548 signatures – to the IBM Board of Directors on November 15th. We also delivered the petition through physical mail on November 18th. The Board has received both submissions, and even though the petition continues to gather signatures – now more than 625 – the Board has chosen not to respond.
An Unacceptable Solution
On December 7th, an injunction was issued against EO 14042 (Georgia v. Biden), putting a temporary stop to the federal contractor mandate. Despite this, at the time of writing, IBM still continues its vaccination mandate. Even if IBM were to pause its mandate in light of the December 7th ruling, this would still be unacceptable. It would amount to a stay of execution, rather than an acquittal. By pausing the mandate, the company can resume or continue it at any given moment.
Our goal is not to reach a temporary halt, but a permanent removal. No employee should live in fear of whether the mandate will be resumed at any second, and no employee should have to decide between making a medical choice and keeping their job.
Medical & Religious Accommodations
From the outside, some may consider a religious or medical accommodation an avenue of escape from the mandate, but this is far from the truth. Many who requested an accommodation within hours or days of October 7th still have not been approved or denied. Since the mandate was announced, the deadline for compliance has been delayed to “mid-January” 2022, but as the original deadline of December 8th has come and gone, the fate of hundreds – possibly thousands – of employees still hangs in the balance.
These employees have waited – and continue to wait – for more than nine weeks to know if they will be able to support their families and put food on the table after Christmas. What’s more, even approved accommodations only last until June 30, 2022, can be “revisit[ed]” at any time, and come with stringent restrictions about interacting with other employees or coming into the office.
The uncertainty about accommodations adds to the long list of unanswered questions:
- Why do we have to upload our vaccination card to a 3rd party product?
- Why do we have to be vaccinated if we don’t work on a federal contract and we are permanent work-from-home-employees?
- Why did IBM not oppose the federal mandate on our behalf?
These questions are still unanswered and even two months after the mandate was enacted, we still remain in the dark.
After patiently petitioning the CEO and the Board of Directors, as well as speaking to a senior member of the executive team, our request for discourse has fallen on deaf ears. As IBMers, we have done our due diligence over the last two months to pursue every reasonable avenue to resolve this issue internally, but we have reached a dead-end. Our only option left was to take our story to the public. On December 8th, we launched againstfederalmandates.com and issued a press release detailing our opposition over the last two months.
We have taken our story public for two main reasons:
1. We want others to know they are not alone
2. We want to shine a public light on this mandate and the damage it has caused
The first few days after the mandate was enacted was an isolating time to be an IBMer. It felt like you were the only one in the company that did not want to be vaccinated. Even if you wanted to oppose the mandate, it felt like you were in an army of one. No matter what you may feel, though, you are not alone. There are hundreds of employees at IBM who have staked their careers, their fortunes, and their futures on this fight. Retreat means losing our livelihoods, and possibly losing our ability to work in the United States. Whether you work at IBM or another company, you are not alone, and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you as you fight these mandates.
A Public Light
As IBMers, we have watched the IBM Family be torn apart by this mandate and have watched as our fellow employees have been required to divulge personal, medical information and account for their sincerely held religious beliefs in order to keep their jobs. It is heartbreaking to see the pain and division this mandate has caused between peers and the personal damaged it has caused in the lives of those affected. As IBMers, we strive every day to make IBM a leader in the technology world, but it feels as though that devotion has gone unreciprocated.
We are IBMers who believe in the vision that Thomas Watson had for our company. It has been devastating to see the fracturing of the IBM Family that this mandate has caused and the vitriol it has stirred up among IBMers. We will continue to fight these mandates until they are removed in their entirety, because we know that the dissolution of liberty is not an option. Unfortunately, we have seen over the last two months that the meaning of liberty is only truly learned through sacrifice. Gone are the days when liberty was a passing thought in our heads. Only when we see it start to slip away do we begin to fully understand its importance.
How to Find Us
For more information about our fight against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate at IBM or to connect with us, visit Against Federal Mandates. You can also sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest in our battle against the IBM mandate.
No matter what, you are not alone.