'Y'all did us wrong': Newport News Shipbuilding employees react to vaccine mandate suspension

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 12:00:26-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Newport News Shipbuilding employees are expressing mixed emotions after CEO Mike Petters released a letter Tuesday night saying most workers do not have to get a COVID-19 vaccine anymore.

Numerous employees tell News 3 they feel tricked, saying they only got the vaccine because of the mandate, which is now suspended.

"They made me get it and then lifted it," said Deshawn Royal, a Newport News Shipyard employee. "I didn't want to get it, but they said I had to get it or we were going to get fired. And then they lifted it. Y'all did us wrong."

Another Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) employee, Rodney Apop, says that while he was happy to get vaccinated against COVID-19, many of his fellow coworkers felt similarly to Royal.

"They went ahead and jumped, and they didn't have the choice to do it," Apop explained. "And now when they take [the mandate] away, they wish they had known so they didn't have to."

The deadline to get the vaccine was originally set for December 8 and then moved back to January 4.

The mandate was set by HII, the parent company of Newport News Shipbuilding.

Employees speculate the suspension came after workers threatened to quit.

"You're gonna lose your people," said Royal. "Not everybody is gonna get it. It's not worth a lot of people's money to get injected with something they don't want."

In Petter's letter to employees, he stated, "We have not wanted to lose a single employee to the virus, or to the effect of the mandate."

But sentiments varied between shipyard employees.

Anthony Askew, an employee within the IT Department at HII, said his coworkers are advocates for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

"All of us got the vaccine so we pretty much are on the same page in terms of supporting getting the vaccine," he said.

Related: Newport News Shipbuilding employees hold rally to protest vaccine mandate

While the mandate is lifted, HII says they are still encouraging all 25,000 Newport News Shipbuilding employees to get the vaccine and their mask requirements will remain in place.

HII did not answer when asked if new hires will be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine.