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State employees inch closer to deal with Gov. Inslee on vaccine mandate

Two protesters hold placards expressing their opinion during the demonstration against a recently imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate for some public employees in the state of Washington. (Photo by Toby Scott/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), representing 47,000 state and other public service workers, has reached a tentative agreement with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, which ultimately confirms the governor’s vaccine mandate for state employees. The agreement will undergo ratification this week, closing Thursday at 11:59 p.m.

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“The tentative agreement is undergoing the ratification process with labor membership,” Inslee’s Deputy Communications Director Mike Faulk wrote in a statement. “The terms of the agreement affirm the requirement for state employees who are not covered by a recognized exemption to be vaccinated by October 18. Both sides worked on terms to ensure employees receive the appropriate support and resources to meet this deadline.”

The vaccine mandate agreement allows for certain accommodations for employees looking for an exemption to the mandate.

If an employee has filed an exemption request by Sept. 13, and the request is still under review by the deadline of Oct. 18, that employee will “suffer no loss in pay” until an exemption decision has been reached, according to the WFSE’s statement on the agreement.

Furthermore, upon the approval of an employee’s vaccine exemption, annual leave and leave without pay can be used until an accommodation is identified.

An additional aspect of the agreement stipulates that employees may use annual leave or leave without pay for up to 45 days to become vaccinated in the event that their exemption request is denied.

Ultimately, the agreement gives workers some amount of flexibility to meet the requirement. For example, 30 days of non-paid leave have been allotted to employees who will surpass the Oct. 18 deadline. For example, if their scheduled second dose goes beyond the deadline, they can use this leave rather than be subject to termination.

Other parts of the deal include one paid day off to accommodate the vaccine appointment, and the ability for WFSE employees to retire by the end of the year, regardless of their vaccination status.

“Negotiators on both sides also worked together on terms that address unique situations around the process of exemption request and subsequent accommodations,” Faulk wrote. “The goal throughout the implementation is to achieve increased vaccinations within our workforce. We are confident that through our negotiation efforts and partnership going forward, we have clarified issues to help employees get on the path towards vaccination and ultimately provide for safer workplaces.”

The vaccine mandate agreement was the result of an unfair labor practices complaint filed by WFSE against the Inslee administration on Aug. 26.

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