Employers, unions should discuss vaccine

In reasonable workplaces, all employees — union and management alike — should be able to reach a consensus on a public health issue.



August 24, 2021 - 10:25 AM

People cheer as more than an estimated 1,000 people gather for an anti-vaccine mandate rally Friday, Aug. 6, 2021 at outside Michigan Capitol in Lansing. (Isaac Ritchey | MLive.com)

The courts seem to be holding that employers can require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, but things get more complicated when there is a labor union involved. 

Rather than avoid the issue, employers and unions should be talking about how to make a vaccine-for-all protocol work.

Allegheny County, for example, is requiring vaccinations of new employees only, while the largely unionized county workforce will not be subject to the same mandate. Current employees who are not vaccinated will be required to wear a mask and undergo regular testing.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald acknowledged that requiring a vaccine for all employees would involve a labor negotiation. “It becomes more complicated when it comes to collective bargaining and some other things along those lines,” he told reporters.

The right direction is discussion between labor and management. In reasonable workplaces, all employees — union and management alike — should be able to reach a consensus on a public health issue. It’s certain no employer wants to be the test case as to whether a collective bargaining agreement can be amended to include a required COVID-19 vaccination. But the approach should not be adversarial but collaborative. It’s for the benefit of all.

Even as there are increasing calls for mandatory vaccinations — with exceptions for religious and health reasons — as terms of employment, there is a lot of reluctance among employers to engage with their union leaders on the matter. This reluctance should be pushed aside in light of the rising number of COVID-19 cases linked to the delta variant.

This is especially pertinent in the health care sector, where doctors, nurses and other health care professionals have a higher risk of coming in contact with COVID-positive patients, as well as in public schools where the delta variant could spread quickly in crowded classrooms among unvaccinated children.

Some unions have voiced opposition to mandated vaccines, but others seem willing to consider the matter. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country, said recently that the union, which was opposed to mandatory vaccinations, should now work with employers on the issue. Randi Weingarten’s public comments on the matter came Aug. 8.

Working together: This is the right approach to a health crisis that both employers and unions are trying to navigate. The bottom line is that everyone involved wants the same outcome: a safe environment for everyone.

November 24, 2021
November 4, 2021
October 20, 2021
June 11, 2021