Responses from public sector unions to COVID-19 vaccination mandates – Ballotpedia News



Exploring Public Sector Union Responses to COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates

Public sector unions have released a series of responses to federal and state mandates requiring government employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, most unions say they should have a say in how these policies are implemented.

Public sector union responses to the federal vaccine mandate

On September 9, President Joe Biden (D) announced a new COVID-19 plan, including “an emergency rule requiring all employers with 100 or more employees … to ensure their workforces are fully immunized or present a negative test at least once a week. “On the same day, Biden signed Executive Order 14043, which states that in order to promote the health and safety of staff,” it is necessary to require COVID-19 vaccination for all federal employees, subject to exceptions required by law “.

Representatives of the main public sector unions responded:

  • AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said on September 10, “The resurgence of COVID-19 requires swift and immediate action, and we applaud President Biden for taking additional steps to help end to this crisis. Everyone should be vaccinated, as a step towards stopping the pandemic. Workers and unions should have a say in shaping these policies.
  • On September 9, American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said, “Since vaccines became widely available, we have strongly encouraged all of our members to take one of the many safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19. … Likewise, since President Biden made his first major announcement regarding changing COVID-19 protocols for the federal workforce in response to the burgeoning Delta variant, we have said that changes like this these should be negotiated with our bargaining units, if applicable. … None of these positions have changed. We plan to negotiate this change prior to implementation, and urge anyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can. “
  • American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said on September 9, “AFT wants to beat the pandemic, and that now means we have to work together as a community. That is why we fully support this plan and the administration’s efforts to protect as many people as possible.
  • On September 9, Federal Law Enforcement Association President Larry Cosme said, “The action of the Biden-Harris administration to force the COVID-19 vaccine on all federal employees is ill-conceived. … This decree despises employees for reasonable concerns and hesitation and inserts the federal government into individual medical decisions. People shouldn’t feel uncomfortable making a reasonable medical choice. “
  • On September 15, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) said: “Currently, it is not clear exactly how the decrees and [emergency rule for employers with over 100 employees] will affect mail carriers and post service. As more information becomes available, NALC will review and negotiate all decisions that affect our members. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said on September 10 that Biden’s executive orders “do not expressly apply to postal workers” and that the union was awaiting more information on the state of emergency. In July, the union said, “While APWU management continues to encourage postal workers to be vaccinated voluntarily, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccination of the employees we represent.

Public sector union responses to state vaccine mandates

Twenty states have issued COVID-19 vaccine requirements for state employees. Here is how some unions reacted in four states: California, Hawaii, Vermont and Washington.


California Governor Gavin Newsom (R) announced on July 26 that all state employees should be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests.

Some unions, including SEIU Local 1000, the International Union of Operating Engineers and Cal Fire Local 2881, have filed complaints as a result of the mandate. SEIU Local 1000 sent a cease and desist letter to the California Department of Human Resources which said, “This is a change in the terms and conditions of our represented employees and requires a meeting and consultation with the union before implementing the change. Tim Edwards, president of Cal Fire Local 2881, said: “We oppose the vaccination requirement and believe the state has a contractual obligation to meet and discuss with workers any possible impact on the employees. “

Other unions have expressed more support for the mandate. Glen Stailey, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said, “Newsom’s new vaccine policy is a reasonable compromise that we can support. He plans regular testing at work for those who have chosen not to get the vaccine – this will prevent the spread of the virus among correctional officers and incarcerated people. The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association said the union was “in the process of confirming that testing will be performed at no cost to the employee and on state time and how employees will be compensated for the self-quarantine. if they are mandated to do so “.


Hawaii Governor David Ige (D) issued a proclamation on August 5 requiring state and county employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing. On the same day, six public sector unions – the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Police Officer Organization of the State of Hawaii, the Professional Assembly of the University of Hawaii and the Public Workers united a joint statement responding to the mandate. The unions said they contacted the governor’s office “to initiate discussions on the vaccine’s mandate,” but this was refused. The statement continued, “The emergency proclamation will have an impact on the working conditions of our members and the employer must negotiate these impacts with the appropriate collective bargaining units. Details on how the tests will be administered, how the results will be kept confidential and how the state will fund this mandate will need to be negotiated with the state and we look forward to having those discussions right away.


On September 8, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (right) announced that the state’s vaccine requirements would be extended to all employees in the executive branch of the state. Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA) President Steve Howard said, “The fruit at hand maybe demands it from state employees. … The hardest part, which takes some leadership, is telling the audience, “You have to do your part. ”


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced a vaccine requirement for state employees on August 9. and WFSE filed an unfair labor practices complaint in Thurston County Superior Court on August 26. A union press release said: “[Inslee’s] proclamation undermines the union’s right to bargain on behalf of employees and undermines the ability to ensure a fair and reasonable exemption process. The lawsuit alleges an unfair labor practice for refusing to bargain in good faith. “

After further negotiations with the state, WFSE members ratified an agreement on September 9 outlining an exemption process and terms of employment. WFSE President Mike Yesramski said: “Our union was able to achieve what we set out to do: victory for public health and due process. … Now we have an agreement that pushes for vaccination and helps ensure a fair process for workers seeking medical or religious exemptions. Since an agreement was reached, WFSE drops the lawsuit.

For more information on the 20 states that have issued vaccine requirements for state employees, click here.

What we read

The big picture

Number of relevant invoices per state

We are currently following 99 pieces of legislation dealing with trade union policy for public sector employees. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates more relevant invoices. Click here for a full list of all the invoices we track.

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of the sponsor (s)

Recent legislative actions

Below is a full list of relevant legislative measures taken since our last issue.

  • Delaware HB237: This bill grants certain law enforcement officers the right to organize and represent.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • The governor signed on September 10.


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