General Electric Co.

GE -0.46%


Union Pacific Corp.

UNP -0.14%

and other large employers have suspended Covid-19 vaccine requirements for workers after a U.S. court ruling blocked the Biden administration’s plan to mandate vaccines for federal contractors.

A federal judge on Tuesday issued a nationwide preliminary injunction after concluding that federal procurement law didn’t give the administration the clear authority to impose the vaccine rules for contractors. Lawyers for the federal government filed a notice of appeal Thursday.

President Biden signed an executive order in September requiring employees of government contractors to get vaccinations. Under federal guidance issued, contractors had to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 unless they were entitled to an accommodation for a religious belief or disability. Recent interpretations of the mandate led some big defense contractors such as Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., the largest Navy shipbuilder, to relax or drop the requirement for staff before the ruling.

GE has paused its implementation of the executive order in response to the preliminary injunction, a company spokeswoman said. Existing programs to educate and encourage workers to get vaccinated are continuing, she said.

U.S. railroad operators, which had faced court challenges from unions representing their employees, also suspended their mandate. A Union Pacific spokeswoman said the company is still encouraging employees to report their vaccination status and get vaccinated. As of Dec. 8, 73% of Union Pacific workers were fully vaccinated and 7% are in progress, the spokeswoman said.

BNSF Railway Co., which is owned by

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.,

also paused its mandate. “With this ruling impacting all BNSF locations—and considering BNSF’s stance remains that the decision to be vaccinated is a personal one—we cannot continue the current path without more certainty about the timing and enforcement of the federal contractor mandate,” a spokeswoman said.

Norfolk Southern Corp.

said it was suspending enforcement of a vaccine mandate and won’t discipline employees who aren’t vaccinated.

Speakers at the WSJ CEO Council Summit weigh to what extent the government should be able to require Covid-19 vaccinations.

However, other employers are keeping the mandates in place. Raytheon Technologies Corp. is maintaining its policy for U.S. employee vaccinations as part of “protecting our employees and communities, and maintaining our ability to meet our customers’ needs,” the defense contractor said, adding that it would provide accommodations in accordance with applicable laws.

Southwest Airlines Co.

told employees that it isn’t changing its vaccination policy and is telling employees to get vaccinated by Jan. 4 or request an accommodation for medical or religious reasons.

“We are keeping a close eye on this litigation and similar proceedings across the country, and we anticipate appeals and other legal procedures will take place before a final decision is made,” according to a Wednesday memo to Southwest operations employees. “That process could take several more months.”

Write to Paul Ziobro at [email protected]

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