LIMA — Protesters gathered outside the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center on Wednesday ahead of the December vaccination deadline for federal contractors and subcontractors, the latest display of frustration as some workers inside the government-owned, privately operated tank plant consider leaving their jobs.
“There’s going to be some resistance if they decide to fall on the side of enforcing the mandate,” said Sean Jordan, a member of the U.A.W. Local 2075 at the JSMC, who rallied outside the tank plant with his family and fellow union members.
Workers would need to start a two-dose vaccine regimen by early November to be considered fully vaccinated by the Dec. 8 deadline.
But protesters on Wednesday said that General Dynamics Land Systems, which operates the JSMC, has not communicated how workers can seek medical or religious exemptions, complicating the decision-making process for those planning to request an exemption.
Morale inside the plant is low as workers await more information, said Mike Phillips, one of the organizers who has worked at the JSMC for three decades.
“They’re holding these people ransom,” Phillips said. “You’ve got to work. You’ve got to make money. You’re a young person; you’re a married couple with kids and a house payment—what are you going to do? Are you going to quit? There’s a lot of people in there that are going to walk out.”
Workers were joined outside the tank plant on Wednesday by their children, spouses and members of the Lima Community for Medical Freedom, a group opposed to mandatory vaccinations that has organized several rallies and at one point drew upward of 5,000 followers on Facebook.
Their shirts proclaimed: “I call the shots.” Their signs declared messages of God-given natural immunity and freedom, soliciting a chorus of horns in support of their cause.
Wednesday’s protest was the latest display of frustration over upcoming vaccination deadlines, which have inspired similar rallies outside Procter & Gamble and in Lima’s Town Square since the Biden administration announced vaccine and testing requirements covering health care workers, federal contractors, military personnel and private employers.
Only 41% of Allen County residents have started their vaccines, trailing state and national trends.
“I believe we’re going to lose some good people, but I can’t blame them for standing their ground and standing up for what they believe in even if it costs them their employment,” said Steve Conley, president of the Local 2075, which represents hourly production and skilled trades workers at the tank plant.
The choice has fallen hard on Norm Bear, who has worked at the JSMC for 13 years.
“When you use aborted fetal tissue cells in the shots, I don’t want anything to do with that. I think that’s an abomination to God,” Bear said, citing other safety concerns and the presence of antibodies from a previous coronavirus infection as reason to not be vaccinated.
But if the mandate is enforced? “I won’t be here,” Bear said.