News 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East rally for congress to pass the Better Care Act on July 14. Photo credit: Courtesy of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Facebook page

Unions struggle over jab or no-job rules

3 mins read

Some unions on board, others reject enforced vaccination requirements in the workplace.

Members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in the United States, recently took to the streets to protest rolling vaccination mandates at hospitals. In a “Trust Our Voices Rally,” they demonstrated against New York-Presbyterian Health System’s new vaccine order for its 48,000 employees.

The union members who were front-line, essential workers saw first-hand the eruption of the COVID-19 health crisis. For them, they “believe that . . . . [they] are best equipped to make the healthcare decisions that are right for their bodies and for their families,” expressed 1199SEIU Communications Director Cara Noel at the rally. She called the mandates as “a condition of employment . . . absolutely wrong.”

Healthcare is not the only sector that opposes compulsory COVID inoculations. Everett Kelley, the American Federation of Government Employees president, said that she expects “the particulars of any changes to working conditions, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines and associated protocols, be properly negotiated with our bargaining units prior to implementation.”

Unions have been looking at both legal and long-term implications pending federal vaccination directives by the Biden Administration. “[I]t is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” contended Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Another federal collective disagreeing with the Biden Administration is the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents 220,000 employees. “While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to voluntarily get vaccinated, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent,” the union released in a statement.

The APWU has been in an ongoing campaign #savethepostoffice since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was appointed by former POTUS, Donald Trump. The campaign is to restore USPS services. Post office in Vero Beach Florida. Photo credit: Anna Naylor of Unsplash

On the other hand, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers rescinded their initial opposition to vaccine requirements. “While we still believe the best way to increase vaccinations is through education and voluntary adoption, we want to be in a position to work with our employers on workplace vaccination policies, including how they’re implemented,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

The NEA takes the position that shots or regular testing be required of school employees. NEA President Becky Pringle initially rejected the jab rules, but said in a statement that “the vaccination of those eligible is one of the most effective ways to keep schools safe, and they must be coupled with other proven mitigation strategies.”

Meanwhile, Ware County Georgia School District shutdown after 76 students tested positive with COVID-19 or its variants, forcing almost 700 students and 150 staff to quarantine. The schools in the district opened August 4, but have now ordered a two week closure. “Many of our staff members have reported that this has been the most difficult start of a new year they’ve ever experienced,” stated school officials on Facebook. No instruction will take place during the time off.

Although unions are taking varied positions, the Economic Policy Institute said that unions are still important. In the report, the institute argued that “the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a reality that U.S. workers have long confronted—U.S. labor law fails to protect working people.” During times where employment laws were flawed, unions gave “workers a collective voice in the workplace.”

To serve, to protect and a right to choose

City of Newark police graduation ceremony on December 20, 2018. Photo credit: City of Newark press office

Whereas some unions look at the Fed’s regulations, police and fire department union leaders in Newark filed a restraining order to stop the executive order enacted by the city’s Mayor Ras Baraka. He gives civil servants two options: get the COVID-19 vaccine or face disciplinary action, even termination.

“Requiring our municipal workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is about protecting the health and well-being of our municipal team, their families, as well as the residents and visitors they come into contact with,” announced Mayor Baraka.

“We demanded to negotiate over the impact issues,” said Captain John J. Chrystal, president of the Newark Police Superior Officers Association. One of the options they want to include in their employment is regular testing rather than the rigid vaccine-only order. Furthered Captain Chrystal. “We want to sit down. We’re reasonable people. We want to sit down and work this out with the city, but the mayor just issued the order without any input without even negotiating with any of the unions.”

On Monday, August 16, the State Employment Relations Commission issued a temporary restraint for the order. The case will be heard at the end of the month.

Now with a looming wave of COVID-19 variants threatening the work flows of the nation, whether they agree or disagree with vaccine mandates, unions still advocate for worker’s rights as they erode.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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