Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to require more than 800,000 state workers, educators and medical professionals to get vaccinations by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs was necessary to defeat this deadly pandemic. But the state employee union has other ideas, more interested in self-dealing than public health.
The Washington Federation of State Employees is challenging the mandate in court, seeking a stay to bargain whether state employees have to choose vaccinations or their jobs. That’s right, bargain over saving lives, protecting children unable to get vaccinated and a return to some semblance of a normal life.
Although labor has scored several memorable wins with state government lately, leaders of the Washington Federation of State Employees are now overplaying their favorable hand. Trying to make public health a bargaining chip crosses a crass, potentially deadly line.
The WFSE is serving its 45,000 members poorly by fighting to slow down Inslee’s vaccination mandate. Public health is the state’s responsibility. Inslee is correct to say a state worker who makes a selfish decision to opt against provably safe and effective vaccination during a deadly pandemic is working at cross purposes with the state and ought to seek work elsewhere.
The union’s galling complaint calls out Inslee for not conducting “good faith bargaining” and seeks to push back compliance with the Oct. 18 deadline for state workers to obtain either vaccination or a defensible religious or medical exemption.
WFSE President Mike Yestramski wrote to union members that the court case is “about respecting our union’s right to bargain.” Clearly, it’s not about public health.
Going to court to set labor negotiations ahead of public health reflects a misplaced priority. The “right to bargain” can be vital to protect a host of worker needs, including fair wages and guidelines for supervision and workplace conditions. It should not be deployed as a universal mechanism to turn everything into a negotiating chip.
Worse, this lawsuit encourages vaccine resistance among state workers, even as the union puts out statements saying workers should put on masks and seek vaccines. Hear the words, but believe the actions.
The lawsuit alleging unfair labor practices over vaccinations in Thurston County Superior Court needs to be tossed out soon after its scheduled hearing Friday begins.
With the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus running amok and the state’s under-12 population sitting vulnerable and unvaccinated, Inslee has stepped up to his proper mission of ramping up vaccinations everywhere he can.
The union members employed under his supervision should either get with the program of ending this pandemic or make room for workers who will, rather than holding public safety hostage to haggle and posture.