Washington state employees union suing over vaccine mandate

Aug 29, 2021, 7:09 AM | Updated: Aug 30, 2021, 10:29 am
vaccine mandate...
Gov. Jay Inslee at a press conference announcing a new vaccine requirement. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)
(Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

A union representing state employees is suing over the vaccine mandate announced by Gov. Jay Inslee in early August. The Washington Federation of State Employees says the state failed to bargain in good faith over the mandate’s impacts.

Responding to the lawsuit late Saturday in a statement to KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show, the governor’s office labels the union’s accusation as “false,” saying that “we look forward to the opportunity to respond in court.”

The WFSE announced the lawsuit Friday, saying that as soon as it learned of the vaccine mandate, it reached out to the state to discuss details.

“Will there be a fair and consistent process for employees in need of accommodations, how does the state intend to address staffing issues, and does the state intend to assist in this massive vaccination effort?” it posited.

The union said the state rejected the proposals and didn’t counter them until after the lawsuit was filed. The union says it has encouraged employees to speak to their physicians about the COVID-19 vaccine, and that health officials agree that vaccines, masking, and social distancing are the only way to end the COVID pandemic.

The mandate stipulates that vaccinations must be completed by Oct. 18 or state employees risk losing their jobs.

Government employees with deeply held religious convictions or certain medical conditions will be allowed to seek accommodation under this new policy. Employees who decline the vaccine without an approved exception will be subject to disciplinary measures, which encompass termination.

On Aug. 18, Gov. Inslee approved a requested mandate from state Superintendent Chris Reykdal to require all K-12 public school teachers be vaccinated — with limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons — or risk losing their job.

Rebekah Zabel, who works as a nurse at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, told KIRO Radio that based on discussions with her colleagues, she estimates at least 20-25% of the nurses at the facility plan to walk away from their jobs rather than get the vaccine — herself included.

From a legal perspective, there’s significant judicial precedent that gives states leeway to mandate vaccines for their employees.

That includes a 1905 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts to uphold the authority of states to enact compulsory vaccination laws. Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has addressed that it’s legal under federal law for companies to require employees get vaccinated before entering the workplace. Exceptions are made for pregnancy, religious beliefs, and health complications.

72.4% of Washingtonians vaccinated

It’s unclear how many state employees and educators will refuse to get vaccinated by the deadline. As of Aug. 22, the state Department of Health reports 72.4% of all Washingtonians who are eligible (12+) have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Find a vaccine location near you with the state’s vaccine locator tool online here, or call 800-525-0127 to get help finding an appointment.

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Washington state employees union suing over vaccine mandate