Washington’s largest union of public service workers has struck a deal with the state to provide employees an incentive to get a COVID-19 vaccination by the Oct. 18 deadline set by Gov. Jay Inslee — and ways for them to avoid getting fired if they don’t.
Under the tentative agreement, members of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) will receive an extra day off in 2022 if they comply with the governor’s mandate.
It also says that if a worker receives the first dose of a vaccination late and fails to become fully vaccinated by the deadline, they can take up to 30 days off without pay to become fully vaccinated, according to information released by the union. Employees who file to retire by the end of this year and are not vaccinated by the deadline will be able to use accrued leave as well as time off without pay right up until their retirement date.
And the accord calls for timely handling of exemption requests. Employees who seek an exemption by Sept. 13 and are still awaiting an answer on Oct. 18 will not lose any pay as the process plays out and a decision is provided, according to the union.
A ratification vote by the nearly 47,000-member union begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday and closes at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 9.
Inslee issued the vaccine mandate for state employees and health care workers on Aug. 9 and expanded it to include employees of schools and colleges the following week.
On Aug. 26, the Washington Federation of State Employees filed an unfair labor practice claim against the state in Thurston County Superior Court. Union leaders said they endorse vaccination but contended the state needed to negotiate the impacts of the mandate under the collective bargaining agreement with workers.
“From day one, we have encouraged WFSE members to follow public health guidance,” union spokesman Justin Lee said in an email. “Experts agree that a combination of vaccination, masking and social distancing are key to a safe return to normal.”
To be considered fully vaccinated, a person must receive the last dose of a vaccine at least two weeks before Oct. 18.
On that basis, a person would need to begin the two-shot regimen of the Moderna vaccine by Sept. 6 or the Pfizer vaccine by Sept. 13. Johnson & Johnson, which is one shot, could be obtained up until Oct. 4.
Mike Faulk, Inslee’s press secretary, issued a statement Saturday noting the tentative agreement “affirms the requirement” for state employees not covered by an exemption to be vaccinated by the deadline.
Terms of the deal aim to ensure employees receive support and resources to meet the deadline and “address unique situations around the process of exemption request and subsequent accommodations,” the statement read.
“The goal throughout the implementation is to achieve increased vaccinations within our workforce,” it stated. “We are confident that through our negotiation efforts and partnership going forward, we have clarified issues to help employees get on the path towards vaccination and ultimately provide for safer workplaces.”