(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A small group of former Boehringer Ingelheim employees gathered to protest the company’s vaccination policy on Tuesday — days after the company began enforcing one of the strictest vaccination requirements by a St. Joseph business.
Boehringer Ingelheim required employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by December to keep their jobs. The company did not offer an alternative testing option unless the worker had been approved for a medical or religious exemption. Boehringer Ingelheim’s rules are stricter than those imposed by other businesses in St. Joseph.
Outside of Boehringer Ingelheim on Tuesday, Kevin Schubert said he and other protestors were disappointed the company refused to relax its rules. He held up a handmade sign that read: “Fired from Boehringer for refusing the jab! Freedom of Choice.” Schubert had been a boiler operator at the company for 16 years before losing his job last week.
“I had hoped they would allow testing in lieu of the vaccination,” Schubert said. “It didn’t really surprise me that they didn’t. You never know what corporate is thinking so I really can’t say I was expecting them to, I just hoped they would.”
Schubert said he refused the jab because he does not believe scientists know enough about the long-term effects.
“I can’t speak for anybody else but I do not feel the vaccine has been tested long enough to know the long-term consequences,” he said. “I have a few health problems of my own and I don’t want to do anything that will lead to further complications.”
Medical experts say the vaccines are safe and effective, particularly at preventing the worst symptoms of COVID-19 and helping contain the spread of the virus, which has now killed nearly 770,000 Americans. Experts also say serious side effects that cause a long-term health problem are extremely unlikely following any vaccination.
Despite these medical opinions, other former Boehringer Ingelheim employees agree with Schubert. Tina Chapman worked for the company for 32 years before she was fired last week.
“We had such longevity in the company. A lot of experience. Something that you’re not going to go and pick up off the street and replace all of that knowledge,” Chapman said.
She said because she, like Schubert, has concerns about the vaccine’s long-term effects in addition to existing health problems, applied for an exemption but was denied.
“I tried medical exemptions but you cannot find a physician that will sign off on a medical exemption because they have to tie their medical license to that and I respect that part of it,” Chapman said. “I know that they have to protect their liabilities as well but we just wanted testing as an option so everybody could have remained employed.”
Chapman and Schubert are both members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 2. The UFCW had attempted to get Boehringer Ingelheim to allow workers the option to test weekly. Chapman, as a representative of her fellow workers, was part of those negotiations. She said the workers even offered to pay for the testing out of pocket.
“We met with the company on four different occasions and they took a very hard stance on it and would not give us the option for weekly testing,” she said.
In defense of its hardline position, a spokesperson for Boehringer Ingelheim sent us a statement in October which read in part, “As a science-based company, we consider the COVID-19 vaccine to be an important public health measure. This policy is intended to maximize vaccination rates against COVID-19 among Boehringer Ingelheim’s US workforce. The goal is to protect, to the greatest extent possible, our employees, their families, and the broader community from COVID-19 as we all do our part in the fight against the worldwide pandemic. It will allow us to deliver on our commitment to provide treatments and therapies to the customers, patients, and animals that need our medicines and support.”
According to Chad Price, the UFCW Local 2 representative, after two months of talks, the Union was unable to convince the company to budge on its position. In total the company fired between 15-30 workers after they refused to get vaccinated per company policy.
On Monday Boehringer Ingelheim sent KQ2 another statement about the terminations. It said, “Boehringer Ingelheim is pleased to announce that more than 99 percent of our active eligible U.S. workforce are fully vaccinated or received a religious or medical accommodation. At our St. Joseph site, 97 percent of our nearly 1,000-member active workforce are now fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or received a religious or medical accommodation. As of December 6, some of our eligible workforces were not vaccinated by the deadline and have been separated from the company.”
Price said he was disappointed with the result. The unionized workers he represents were loyal, skilled employees that had been with the company for decades. He said the Union was working to file individual grievances and a class-action grievance on behalf of its members against Boehringer Ingelheim.
Boehringer Ingelheim’s full statement is below:
As previously reported, Boehringer Ingelheim USA has required all of its eligible United States-based workforces to complete FDA authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccination regimen or receive a religious or medical exemption by December 1 as a condition of employment. Boehringer Ingelheim is pleased to announce that more than 99 percent of our active eligible U.S. workforce are fully vaccinated or received a religious or medical accommodation.
At our St. Joseph site, 97 percent of our nearly 1,000-member active workforce are now fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or received a religious or medical accommodation. As of December 6, some of our eligible workforces were not vaccinated by the deadline and have been separated from the company. We are thankful for our vaccinated St. Joseph colleagues, that help to ensure the site continues its important work producing animal vaccines that are critical for the health and wellbeing of animals in the U.S. and around the world.