Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has issued a directive making COVID-19 vaccines a permanent condition of employment for state workers in executive and small cabinet agencies, including boosters.
The new vaccination standards for state employees are, according to the directive, meant to head off any possibility of going back to more severe actions implemented during the height of the pandemic, including stay-at-home orders and the closure of schools and businesses.
“Widespread vaccination is also the primary means we have as a state to protect our health care system and to avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” the directive states.
All new state employees are required to be vaccinated with the most up-to-date vaccines, including any additional doses or boosters as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Current exempt state employees – executive or professional workers paid a salary rather than by the hour – are required to be fully vaccinated as of July 1, 2023.
The directive calls for the State Human Resources Division of the Office of Financial Management to take steps necessary to continue the requirement that state employees not represented by a union be fully vaccinated, including that they have the most up-to-date vaccinations by July 1, 2023.
OFM is also “to engage with labor organizations regarding the proposal to require represented employees to continue the requirement to be fully vaccinated; and to engage with labor organizations for the 2023-2025 collective bargaining cycle regarding the proposal to require represented employees to be vaccinated with the most up-to-date vaccination as recommended by the CDC.”
Elizabeth Hovde, director of the Center for Health Care and Center for Worker Rights at the free market Washington Policy Center, indicated she didn’t understand where Inslee is coming from with this new directive.
“COVID-19 is serious, but it is no longer a public-health crisis,” she told The Center Square in an email. “It has become like other viruses that we have to deal with in a reasonable and voluntary way. This is not reasonable or appropriate. And it doesn’t serve the public or the state workforce.”
According to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, there are 228 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, and 10% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
“People of working ages – and they are who this would apply to – have never been the ones dying from COVID-19 in a way that depletes hospital resources or state workforces,” Hovde continued. “Staffing shortages in the public sector and among health care workers are exacerbated by the governor’s vaccine mandate, on the other hand.
“From ferries and highway workers to hospitals and first responders, Inslee's vaccine mandate has ruined careers and family finances, and it has decreased expected service levels, for no demonstrable health benefit. Now he is adding a booster requirement to part of the state workforce.”
Washington’s vaccine mandate for state employees took effect on Oct. 18, 2021.
Approximately 3% of the state’s 63,000-strong workforce subject to the mandate left their jobs or were let go right after the deadline to get vaccinated had passed. A day after the passing of the deadline, the Office of Financial Management reported 1,887 state employees quit or were fired over for not complying with the vaccine mandate.
With Washingtonians currently enduring record-breaking inflation and a shrinking economy as the nation emerges from the worst of the pandemic, Hovde questioned the timing of the new directive.
“We’re going into a recession and now is not the time to restrict access to jobs,” she said. “Besides, if you believe unvaccinated people are a threat to public health, they will be threats whether they work for the state or not!”
In late May, Inslee dropped the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for outdoor contractors and volunteers whose work doesn’t involve delivering health care services.