Machinists union set to bargain over COVID vaccine mandate with Boeing

Oct 15, 2021, 10:15 AM | Updated: 10:24 am
Boeing, union...
Boeing Everett. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Boeing announced on Tuesday that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or get an approved exemption by Dec. 8, 2021.

The Machinist Union released a statement on Friday, acknowledging that the mandate is a divisive issue for its members, asking employees to choose “between beliefs or their jobs.” The mandate does not allow for a testing option, unless approved for medical or religious exemption.

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“We are not anti-vaccine, but we disagree with a vaccine mandate. We don’t believe that is right,” the union wrote in its memo.

The union says it’ll begin bargaining the effects of the decision with Boeing beginning on Friday.

Read the full statement below:

Boeing, along with several of our other employers, announced they are required as a contractor to the federal government, per Executive Order 14042, to require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. This Executive Order does not allow for a weekly testing option for those with philosophical differences and only offers a testing option when approved for a medical or religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The law is clear, employers cannot implement a vaccine requirement without bargaining the effects of their decision. We have demanded to bargain and will begin meeting with Boeing today (10/15/21) to start the process. We will share results that come from effects bargaining when we can.

Our membership is polarized on the topic. We have members on both sides of the issue, and we are receiving communication encouraging to both enforce the vaccine mandate and to oppose a vaccine mandate, at the same time.

The Company has communicated that it intends to release members who do not comply with the vaccine mandate. This could mean members would be terminated without rights, without layoff status or any right to return. This is not acceptable and we will engage on this subject in effects bargaining.

Protecting seniority, layoff rights, rights to exemptions, pension protections and proper safety provisions are paramount as we move forward. Through these discussions we will work to provide clarity on the exemption request process and any appeal rights, if necessary. If any requests are denied, we have the right to investigate each case on its merits. We have seen successful lawsuits challenging blanket denials of exemption requests.

We feel strongly that we must advocate for all members. We are not against vaccinations and believe the vaccine is good for public health and safety. However, we must advocate for all our members; those that will not become vaccinated along with members who will get vaccinated. No matter a member’s opinion on this issue, we must stand and protect our members’ jobs as best we can. We are looking at all options as we move through effects bargaining.

Being an advocate for our members also requires transparency and truth. Some members are calling for us to file a lawsuit in an effort to overturn the mandate. Through legal advice, research and investigation of past and current court cases on this topic, we do not see a pathway to overturn an employer’s vaccine mandate, at this time.

We are absolutely opposed to this mandate because of the position it puts our members in. We want to be clear. We are fighting for contractual rights in an effort to protect our members’ jobs.
We are monitoring current legal activity on this topic. There are lawsuits moving through the courts that have addressed this issue in the past, we will share this information and the decisions from those cases in future communications. One specific case to pay attention to is a recent court challenge in Texas, Bridges et al vs Houston Methodist Hospital. It was a lawsuit challenging the employer’s vaccine mandate. The court in Texas rejected that lawsuit and maintained the employer’s right to mandate a vaccine. It is now under appeal.

A vaccine mandate puts members in the untenable position to choose between their beliefs or losing their jobs. We are not anti-vaccine, but we disagree with a vaccine mandate. We don’t believe that is right.

Again, we begin effects bargaining today and will make proposals supporting all our members. We have received many phone calls and emails with various concerns. We will work to return all calls and emails as soon as possible.

We began hearing this week about potential walkouts or wildcat strikes. We want to be clear. The Union cannot encourage a wildcat strike, withholding our labor, a sick out or walk out in any form, due to the no strike/no lockout clause in our contract.

However, our members have the right to engage in concerted activity. That means as a group we can engage in activities like marching, protesting, sign waiving, or noise making. Many members who were here prior to 2008 understand that well – those are things our members do to show their voice and power. We will defend our members right to participate in these activities during non-work time (before or after work, during lunch or breaks). We encourage you to participate in concerted activity as a group. We might see rallies on both sides of the issue. Please be respectful to each other, keep any activity non-violent, non-destructive and outside of work time.

We put the Company on notice that we have this right and are protected under federal law for concerted activity on non-work time.
We will send in a separate communication the religious and medical exemption forms, along with information regarding the process to follow when submitting the exemption request.

During these unprecedented times, know that your Union is always an advocate for all members. We will keep you updated on our progress in effects bargaining and provide information as it becomes available. As stressful as this is, please remember we are all stronger together. Don’t allow this to divide us going forward.

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Machinists union set to bargain over COVID vaccine mandate with Boeing