Rocket plant employees protest vaccination mandate


John C. Stennis Space Center, a NASA rocket engine test site in Hancock County, Mississippi, is among the large federal employers seeing some of its workforce demonstrate against the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
On Tuesday, about 100 demonstrators gathered along a rural highway just of Stennis Space Center grounds, waving American flags and hoisting signs condemning the federal vaccine requirements.
President Joe Biden's administration is requiring all federal contractor employees be vaccinated by Dec. 8.
Demonstrators, including friends, family and community supporters, held signs reading "Freedom Not Force," "Coercion is Not Consent," "Stand Up for Medical Freedom," Know the Facts, No Forced Vax" and "We Deserve Medical Choice, Not Unemployment."
Several times throughout the three-hour demonstration, the group gathered to pray.
Employees who work at the John C. Stennis Space Center, a NASA national rocket engine test site in Hancock County, is another largest federal employer to have its workforce organize a protest against the vaccination mandate, following Ingalls Shipbuilding employees' rallies earlier this month.
Nyla Trumbach, a test engineer for the space program's rocket engines, organized Tuesday's demonstration.
"There are many of us that for different reasons do not want to be vaccinated. We're uncomfortable with it, whether it's for a religious reason, a medical reason. Some of us have had COVID, and we have natural immunity. And a lot of us, it just goes against our sincerely held beliefs, not to mention it violates our constitutional rights."
Stennis employees have a private group for planning and communication with about 600 members, Trumbach said. About 50 employees have been joining in-person planning meetings.
Trumbach says employees are allowed to submit a religious or medical exemption, but they have not been told whether those exemptions will be approved as the Dec. 8 deadline nears.
"No one should be forced to take a medical treatment just to keep their job," she said. "And I hope they see, just across the country, in all of these companies where people are standing up, what our country stands to lose by pushing out these employees that don't agree with this mandate."
Richard Boyanton, a Mississippi resident who owns a fencing company, said he was asked to show a vaccination card or negative COVID test to access a Stennis work site. He refused to provide either. Currently, Stennis requires off-site workers like Boyanton, are required to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result to access the property.
"If you want to be vaccinated, go get vaccinated. It's my right as a Mississippian to say if I want to get vaccinated or I don't want to," said Boyanton, holding a sign that read: "Know the Facts. No Forced Vax."
Ashley Harriel, whose husband is a Stennis employee, says her husband is prepared to lose his job over the mandate.
"That's something that unfortunately we've had to discuss," she said, holding a sign that read:
"Jab or Job – My Ability to Work is Not Determined by a Vaccine."
Harriel says her husband has filed for medical and religious exemption.
"We don't know what the future holds," she said. "We don't know if he'll be let go. We don't know what to expect."

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