COVID-19 vaccine mandates are wreaking havoc across the country as employees are forced to get vaccinated or possibly risk losing their jobs. Employees’ religion-based objections to vaccination are clashing with those mandates, and often, the mandate wins out.
Hunter Creger was suspended from his job at a Colorado-based spacecraft launch service after he refused the vaccine on religious grounds.
“It was awful,” Creger explains. “These are people that I work for, and that I’ve developed a relationship with, and they’re telling me that … . They walked me out the door. They had security walk me out the door because I didn’t want to take the shot.”
Creger joins the show to share his story and to offer advice to others who find themselves in circumstances similar to his.
We also cover these stories:
- The Biden administration insists that mandating COVID-19 vaccines and testing for employees of larger companies is necessary to keep the public safe.
- Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signs legislation amending state law to make it more difficult for Illinoisans to refuse to be vaccinated.
- Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra refuses to address GOP accusations that he violated federal conscience protections and worked at “the behest of the abortion lobby.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Hunter Creger, an employee of United Launch Alliance, a Colorado-based spacecraft launch service, who was suspended from his job after he refused to be vaccinated against COVID due to his religious beliefs. Hunter, thank you so much for coming.
Hunter Creger: Hey, how’s it going?
Blair: Good. Why don’t we start at the beginning of this story. When did United Launch Alliance announce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate? And then what was the reason given for the mandate?
Creger: They mandated it at the end of August. The reasoning for it was for the health and safety of all employees that are working for and with United Launch Alliance.
Blair: OK. So they basically started this a little while ago and then it was given a health and safety reason. This wasn’t a government mandate. It wasn’t that they had to be in compliance with the government. This was before all of this came out.
Creger: Yes. Their deadline was separate from the federal guideline. They actually had it a lot sooner than the original Dec. 8 deadline that was in place when they first implemented the mandate.
Blair: OK. And to give our listeners a little more context about maybe your work with United Launch Alliance, what did you do before you were suspended and how many years had you been with the business?
Creger: I was a laser weld technician and I was there for going on about two years, a little under two years.
Blair: OK, so you had been with the company for a while. This wasn’t you were a new hire and they were saying, “OK, you need to get vaccinated or you need to leave.”
Creger: Yes, yeah.
Blair: OK. How did you feel when they initially told you that you needed to be vaccinated? Did you consider getting vaccinated at the start?
Creger: No, no. Absolutely not. It was never an option for me. To be honest, originally I wasn’t too worried about it because I was like, “Well, it’s not a good thing that they’re doing. I don’t like it, but I have a religious exemption.” I’m a Catholic so I’m exempt from having to get it.
So I’m sitting there thinking, I’m like, “Well, it sucks, but I’m probably not going to have to get it.” It wasn’t until the week before the mandate that we found out that they had denied all religious exemptions across the board.
Blair: Yeah. One of the things that I find interesting about these types of stories is the federal mandate from the Biden administration gives another option, right? So there’s the idea that you can either get tested regularly, weekly for COVID-19 and you have to provide a negative test or you have to get vaccinated. Did the United Launch Alliance offer that option or was it a strict, “You must get vaccinated or you have to leave”?
Creger: It was, “You have to get vaccinated or you have to leave.” They didn’t leave it to any sort of option whatsoever.
Blair: … Did they give a justification for saying it has to be a vaccine? Because even the federal mandate says you’re allowed to get tested regularly.
Creger: Well, they didn’t really give much of a reason why. I mean, they said that it was, like I said, it was for the health and safety of all employees. I don’t know. They didn’t give you much of an option whatsoever.
Blair: OK. One of the things we talked about at the top of the show was that you had applied for a religious exemption and were denied. It sounds like, from what you’re saying, this was a religious exemption that was denied across the board. A lot of other people were asking for that. On what grounds did you ask for a religious exemption?
Creger: I’m a Roman Catholic, so I don’t believe in the fetal cell lines that are used in the vaccine that develop it for the Pfizer and the Moderna, or the ones that are actually in the vaccine for the Johnson & Johnson.
Blair: OK. So you have a moral disagreement with how the vaccine was produced.
Creger: Yeah. Not only that, but I hate the term “exemption.” I hate that it’s come down to I have to have an excuse to not do something that the government wants me to do, or the company wants me to do. I feel like the fact that I’m saying, “No, I don’t want to get it,” should be enough. I hate it because the whole exemption process, it legitimizes the system. And it really bugs me that I have to ask permission to not put something in my body, pretty much.
Blair: One of the things that seems to be a recurring theme with this story is that the United Launch Alliance doesn’t really give anything as an explanation other than health and safety. Was there a justification that they gave for the denial of religious exemptions across the board?
Creger: They said it would be an undue hardship on the company because there were so many people who applied for exemption. So they’re saying that it was going to be too much work for the company to fill out all the paperwork to hand out exemptions.
But what I don’t understand is how difficult is it? I know of several aerospace companies in the area that are just checking a box and saying, “All right, you’re exempt. You’re good.” There’s no other process required.
They’re having to go through the process of replacing all the people that they lost because of all this. I don’t understand how that’s any less of an undue hardship on the company than just checking a box and saying, “All right, this person’s exempt from getting vaccinated.”
Blair: So they told you that it was undue hardship on the company. That was the justification given. It would be too difficult to fill out the paperwork.
Creger: Yes. That was it.
Blair: Interesting. So in response to the vaccine mandate, you were the leader of a protest movement at United Launch Alliance about the vaccine mandate. Can you tell me a little bit more about the protests?
Creger: Well, so, we found out the Friday before the deadline that everybody had been denied. I think there were maybe a handful of medical exemptions that were approved and a lot of them were temporary for the next six months or so. But as you can understand, there was a lot of people that were very upset.
I kind of got together and I started a telegram channel. I said, “All right, well, we need to do something because they’re trying to take our livelihoods away from us.”
This was something that I was very open with. I made sure that we weren’t doing anything wrong. We were taking approved vacation, approved PTO, and all that stuff. I laid out the Monday and the Tuesday of the week of the mandate and we’d just sit outside and we protested. We had signs made, the media came out, they talked to us.
But I came in on Wednesday and I walked through the door and my manager’s like, “Hey, Hunter. You’re not allowed to touch hardware until you have a meeting with HR.” I was like, “All right.” I went in and I had my meeting and they told me that I was suspended pending an investigation.
So I was there with my union representation and we were trying to prod them, like, “Hey, why am I being suspended?” And they wouldn’t tell me. We’re like, “Is it because I organized the protest?” And they said, “No.” They would not and they still haven’t given me an explanation of why I was suspended.
Blair: The suspension then wasn’t explicitly because of your refusal to get vaccinated. It sounds like it’s not entirely clear what the justification given for your suspension is.
Creger: Yeah. And they still haven’t given me an explanation.
Creger: I think it was because of my role that I played in organizing the protest.
Blair: How many of your co-workers would you say were with you at this protest? Would you say it was a large amount of your co-workers? Would you say it was half? How many people do you think were there?
Creger: We were out there at several different times over the course of those couple days. I’d say at any given time, 25 max out there in front of the building.
Blair: OK. What were you hearing from some of these people? Were their justifications similar to yours in the sense that they had a moral problem with the vaccine? Was it more just, “I don’t want the business telling me what to do”? What was some of the justification that your colleagues were saying that they had a problem with the vaccine mandate?
Creger: It was really mixed. It was a lot of people who didn’t want to take it for religious reasons. It was a lot of people that didn’t want to take it because they were afraid of the vaccine. They’re afraid of what it was going to do to their bodies. And there were people out there that were just like, “Well, I don’t like what’s happening right now.”
There were vaccinated people out there with us supporting us and they said, “I don’t like that this is happening to you guys. I don’t like the direction that this is going. I don’t like the fact that the company is threatening you with this vaccine, basically saying, ‘If you don’t get it, you’re fired.’ I don’t like the precedent that that’s setting.” There was a lot of people out there that had that belief.
Blair: Could you maybe walk me through your feeling? You’re in the office and they’re telling you that you would be suspended. What did you feel when they told you that you would be suspended?
Creger: It was awful. These are people that I work for and that I’ve developed a relationship with and they’re telling me that. They walked me out the door. They had security walk me out the door because I didn’t want to take the shot.
It was like being betrayed because I’ve put in so much work at the company and I’ve dedicated a huge amount of life to the work that I do. And that was the most amount of respect that they could give me, was to basically say, “All right, security, walk him out.”
Blair: Is there any chance you might get your job back? Do you feel like that’s on the table at all?
Creger: Well, there are some promising movements in the state of Alabama … There are changes in the law that would hopefully allow me to go back to work at ULA. But to be honest with you, at this point, it’s left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don’t want to work for somebody that would treat me like that.
Blair: Yeah. I’m curious about the future now that you’ve, one, been suspended by this business and then, two, it seems like the way that they suspended you has left a negative impression on the business in your mind. What does this mean for you in the future? I mean, where do you go from here? What is your situation now that you are suspended from this job and you’re currently, I’m assuming, looking for employment?
Creger: Yeah. I’ve got my fingers out in several different things right now. I’ve got interviews this week. And a lot of the places that I’ve talked to, they basically said, “All right, well, we know that you don’t want to get vaccinated. So if we decide to bring you on, we’re going to put you through the exemption process.” And they’re just open about it. They’re like, “All right, well, if you want the job, you’re going to have to be exempt.” “OK, sounds good.”
For whatever reason, ULA just refuses to give out exemptions when there are plenty of other companies that are willing to let their employees be exempt from something that they don’t want to do.
Blair: Are you finding that there are a lot of businesses in the area that are willing to do it? That the United Launch Alliance is an outlier?
Creger: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I have friends that work at other federal contractors that basically just walk into HR and they say, “Hey, here’s my exemption paperwork,” and they say, “All right.” They check the box. “All right, you’re good.”
Blair: Interesting. I guess, in terms of your mental state, how have you been holding up now that you were suspended? I can imagine that that would be kind of rough mentally to have worked for a business for two years and then be escorted out the door.
Creger: Well, it’s not been horrible. It’s not like I’m unable to cope with it, but it’s definitely … not a good situation to be in because … I don’t have a paycheck coming anymore. It’s given me an opportunity to stand up for what I believe in. It’s given me an opportunity to say, “All right, enough is enough. I’m not going to play this game anymore.” And that alone has made this whole situation bearable because not a lot of people can say that they honestly had a chance to stand up for what they believe in and done it.
Blair: Have you been in contact with any of your co-workers who’ve experienced things similarly to you who’ve been suspended for this, for refusing the vaccine? How have they handled the situation?
Creger: Well, I’ve got one of the guys that I work with, or used to work with, he’s the breadwinner in the family. He’s got two little girls and his wife doesn’t work and he was right there with me. He decided, he’s like, “I’m not going to get the shot because I think it’s wrong.” I’ve been in contact with him and he’s doing OK. He’s thinking about starting his own business.
If anything, it’s like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders because now he’s not working for a company that is going to try and dictate personal aspects of his life.
Blair: I want to briefly touch on your experience with the pandemic. Some people were able to go and work from home for the most part and some people were forced to go into their office or their workplace during the pandemic. Were you able to work at home at all during the pandemic or did you have to go into your workplace during the pandemic?
Creger: No. I’m a technician. We had to be there. We had to be the ones to go and actually assemble the rockets that we build.
I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, the CEO of the company, Tory Bruno, he sent out an email to everybody and had them printed off … in the first two weeks of the pandemic, when people were worried about being caught out of their house during quarantine and stuff like that. Basically it was a piece of paper saying that if you get stopped by any law enforcement, give them this piece of paper saying that you are essential to not only the company, but national defense because of what you’re working on.
I mean, that really wasn’t that long ago. It was a little over a year ago where I was absolutely essential to national defense. And now, “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.” That’s what it’s come down to.
Blair: So now that we are in this place where it seems like the federal vaccine mandate has officially been announced and it seems like a lot of businesses such as United Launch Alliance are doing employer-based mandates that are separate from the federal mandate, what do you think will happen if these types of mandates remain in place?
Creger: Nothing good. That libertarian idea of as long as the government isn’t infringing on my rights, companies are allowed to do whatever they want—companies can infringe on your rights just as much, if not more, than the federal government can.
So at what point do we take accountability for how we rule our lives? What right has God given these multinational corporations to dictate what we put in our bodies? What’s the next step? What happens when you’re a female employee and they make you go on birth control or something because they don’t want you having any kids? Is that so hard to think of now? Because that’s the road that we’re on.
Blair: As we wrap-up this interview, I’m curious if you have any advice for people like you who are either in danger of losing their jobs or have already lost their jobs due to the vaccine mandate. What advice can you offer them?
Creger: Don’t give up. You have to stand up for what you believe in. I mean, any rights that you give up today are rights that your kids will never see. So to all the people that have taken the stand, I commend you. And all those people who or worried about maybe losing their job or anything, there are a lot worse things in this world to lose than your job, and somebody will always hire you.
Blair: Good stuff to think about. That was Hunter Creger, a federal worker with United Launch Alliance, a Colorado-based spacecraft launch service, who was suspended from his job after he refused to be vaccinated against COVID due to his religious beliefs. Hunter, thank you so much, again, for your time. Really appreciate it.
Creger: Thanks for having me.
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