Unions split over demands for vaccinations of health workers

As more healthcare organizations demand their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, support for mandates among the country’s leading work groups has been mixed.

Unions such as the National Union of Nurses and the National Union of Health Workers have endorsed employers ‘demands for vaccinations, provided that workers’ voices are formally heard in policymaking. Others, including the International Union of Service Personnel, have so far denied support and argued that the requirements are complex questions that go beyond a simple yes or no answer.

These unions share a common principle: even regulations in the name of public health should not replace workers’ rights.

During the pandemic, health workers’ unions have been at the forefront of efforts to improve worker safety, including strengthening infection control measures and providing adequate supplies of protective equipment.

Those same unions are now in a precarious position to promote vaccination among their members, while at the same time opposing what some believe is an attempt by employers to circumvent labor regulations that require them to negotiate with workers before introducing changes in their terms of employment and work.

Critics of employers demanding vaccinations argue that worker participation is critical to formulating policies to expand access and increase immunization. In addition, some unions do not allow employers to change rules in the workplace unless companies agree with the unions.

“We have the legal right to participate in the process and negotiate the implications of any new work rule,” said Debbie White, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, New Jersey’s largest union of healthcare professionals with more than 14,000 employees.

Many major health systems have introduced vaccination mandates in recent weeks to slow the spread of the virus to both workers and patients. Such demands were supported by the leaders of a number of municipal, state and federal authorities. President Joe Biden requires federal employees to either confirm they have been vaccinated or must undergo weekly testing and mandatory disguises.

Mandatory vaccinations are also supported by major medical professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Nursing and the American College of Surgeons, which issued a joint statement last week urging healthcare professionals to be vaccinated as a mandatory vaccine. the condition of their employment. The American Hospital Association and other organizations representing health systems also support vaccine requirements.

Federal law allows employers to require all employees who physically enter the workplace to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Individuals with medical reasons and religious objections can be exempted from compulsory vaccination policies by their employer, as can some workers protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Union workers can also be exempted from vaccination requirements if their collective bargaining agreements require their employers to first agree on new policies affecting working conditions.

Healthcare workers and other staff members have expressed support for vaccinations, but are concerned about employer authority as the policy was introduced without negotiation with workers. “These are new working conditions, so we absolutely have the right to bargain over the consequences,” White said.

According to the data, approximately one in four hospital workers who have direct contact with patients had not yet received a single dose of vaccine by the end of May. analysis hosted by WebMD and Medscape Medical News in June. WedMD and Medscape analyzed HHS data from 2,500 hospitals with vaccination rates ranging from 30% to 99%. In the 50 largest institutions, about a third of workers were not vaccinated.

The National Nurses Association, representing more than 170,000 workers, has always supported vaccine requirements as long as exemptions were made for those who refuse vaccinations for religious or medical reasons, said Jean Ross, the union president. Meanwhile, union nurses still face many of the same safety concerns they faced in the early days of the pandemic, such as a lack of personal protective equipment, she said.

The fact that overwhelming majority new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths among those who have not been vaccinated have rightly prompted stakeholders to focus most of their response efforts on vaccinating more people.

However, the emphasis on vaccinating workers essentially shifts the responsibility for providing a safe work environment from employers to individual employees, Ross said.

“We fear that even if we don’t have the best equipment, even if it’s not enough, or even if we are asked to reuse it, as they forced us to do it before, they might say,“ At least you are vaccinated, ”he said. Ross.

The International Union of Service Workers, the largest healthcare working group with 1.1 million members, declined to state its position on vaccine requirements. The union said in a statement that employers must do more to improve access to vaccines. The union said SEIU is meeting with local leaders as well as community groups to chart a path forward.

This view points to the lack of trust that many unions have in employers after more than a year of working in hazardous conditions, which has led some unions to hesitate to support vaccination demands even in the face of a public health emergency.

“Before vaccinations, we couldn’t get hospitals around the world to test workers even if they had symptoms,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Health Workers, which represents 15,000 members in California.

The union itself adopted a mandate to vaccinate employees and visitors to its offices three months ago, Rosselli said.

Rosselli said the National Health Workers Union has begun negotiations with several hospitals over the past two months about the terms of their vaccination mandates. The union reached preliminary agreements with employers, which the members later ratified. Under these agreements, workers are given access to vaccines in their workplaces, and employers must cover all immunization-related costs and provide paid time off to workers suffering from vaccine side effects.

Kaiser Permanente members will begin discussions over the next few days on how to respond to the challenges of an integrated health care system in Oakland, California. new vaccine mandatewhich requires all 240,000 workers to be fully vaccinated by September 30th.

Employee perspectives are critical to parties making policies that are comfortable for both of them. “It’s a shame that employers don’t reach out to their workers when there are no unions in the plant,” White said. “This could not only improve the relationship between employer and workers, but also make a much needed contribution.”

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