Unions Say State Vaccine Mandates for Workers Must Be Negotiated

In the wake of the federal government’s new requirements around COVID-19 vaccination and health and safety protocols in the workplace, Connecticut’s unions are saying that any potential state mandates should be worked out at the bargaining table. 

On Monday, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it would mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its 115,000 health care workers. Yesterday, President Joe Biden issued regulations that will require federal workers either to show proof of vaccination or to follow regulations that include required masking, distancing and weekly testing. The Defense Department is also considering adding the COVID-19 shot to the list of mandatory vaccinations for military personnel. 

In a press release on Friday, State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called for Connecticut to put into place similar measures. He also asked that medical offices inform patients of the vaccination status of their staff. 

“With federal and military employees subject to these restrictions announced by the President and Defense Department, it would make sense to apply a similar framework to Connecticut’s state and local employees. This would not be a mandate. It’s a commonsense way to restrict the spread of COVID-19,” said Duff. 

Gov. Ned Lamont has not yet made any decisions about whether he will take a similar approach on the state level, said Max Reiss, director of communications for the governor’s office, in an email on Friday. 

The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 4, which represents 30,000 Connecticut residents, said in a statement that any COVID-19 policies regarding vaccines and testing in the workplace needed to be part of a collective bargaining agreement. 

“It is our position that employers must bargain the impact of any issues related to vaccinations and testing for COVID-19 in workplaces, including mandatory vaccinations. The best way to achieve a common end – safe workers and safe communities – is when workers have a voice and seat at the table in decisions impacting their working conditions,” read the statement. 

Jan Hochadel, who is president of American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, also released a statement calling for employers who create policies around vaccinations to do so “in mutual negotiations between labor and management.”  

“We expect our local union members’ employers to live up to their obligations under current contracts and meet us at the bargaining table before implementing any new mandates,” Hochadel said.

The American Federation of Teachers Connecticut represents 30,000 members, 7,500 of whom are in the healthcare field. Hochadel noted that most union members decided to get the vaccine even when it was not required. 

“We have been encouraging our member nurses and health professionals to get vaccinated since last winter when it first became available to them. They answered the call then — an overwhelming majority stepped forward to get the shot, without any mandates,” she said in the statement.  

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, known as SEBAC, which represents 45,000 state employees, emphasized the risk that frontline workers have taken since the start of the pandemic. 

“At this time, SEBAC has not been approached by the Lamont Administration on this matter, but we look forward to carefully considering any proposal that is designed to enhance the safety of both state workers and the public they serve while ensuring a fair and effective system,” the union wrote in a statement. 

Pedro Zayas, communications director for Service Employees International Union 1199 New England, which represents 29,000 healthcare workers in Connecticut and Rhode Island, told CT Examiner that they would follow SEBAC’s lead. He said the union had encouraged workers to get the vaccine and worked to gain priority access for healthcare workers. 

David Dal Zin, the communications director for AFL-CIO Connecticut, also echoed SEBAC’s statement. 

“We are strongly encouraging our members to get vaccinated because it’s the quickest way of getting the pandemic behind us and preventing further mutations of COVID,” said Dal Zin in an email.

Earlier this week, Richard Trumka, president of the national AFL-CIO, which represents 12.5 million workers nationwide, also said that the union supports mandating vaccinations in the workplace. 

The number of coronavirus cases in Connecticut has been ticking up overall since early July, driven mainly by the contagious Delta variant. As of Friday, the state positivity rate was 2.72 percent. 

Latest from Emilia Otte