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Multiple unions push back against proposals for vaccine mandates

Groups signal support for vaccine, but not for forcing it on employees.

Published: August 6, 2021 12:50pm

Updated: August 15, 2021 11:20pm

COVID-19 vaccine mandates are provoking an unlikely set of opponents: Labor unions.

Long known as a generally left-of-center cohort, unions — especially teacher's unions — are not a social force one would expect to mount a sustained opposition against such mandates, which have been growing in number in recent weeks. Yet a broad, unaffiliated coalition of unions is signalling its intent to oppose the mandates, at the very least for their own members. 

New York State United Teachers — a major educators' union with over 600,000 members — said in a statement this week that it was opposed to proposals to make COVID-19 vaccines a mandatory condition of employment. 

"We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one," the group said. "We would support local efforts to encourage more vaccinations, such as through programs that require that those who are not vaccinated get tested on a regular basis. 

"But it's critical that districts come up with plans to make testing available on-site and at no cost. What we have not supported is a vaccine mandate."

The United Federation of Teachers tacitly indicated its own opposition to a mandate when it praised a proposal by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow New York City employees to forgo mandatory vaccinations if they undergo weekly testing. 

"​​This approach puts the emphasis on vaccination but still allows for personal choice and provides additional safeguards through regular testing," the UFT said in its statement. 

Opposition has not come solely from the educational sector. Henry Garrido, the executive director of AFSCME's District 37 in New York City, told local media that the union is "absolutely against an absolute mandate to vaccinate everyone."

Healthcare unions, meanwhile, have also stated their opposition to mandates. 

"Mandating vaccination is not, nor will it ever be, the answer," George Gresham, the president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told media this week. 

"As democratic organizations, unions will generally do what their members want," Jack Fiorito, a management professor at Florida State University who specializes in labor issues, told Just the News this week.

"Surely there are some groups of union members with a majority who are 'anti-vax,' and thus their union will likely take an anti-vax stance," he said. "Even in unions that are pro-vaccine, there would be concern for the rights and wellbeing of those who may not be able to get the vaccine for health reasons (for example, due to some other health problem, vaccine sensitivity, etc.)"

"On the whole," he argued, "it seems to me that unions have supported vaccination and even mandatory vaccination."'

Major companies, meanwhile, are actively in negotiations with their unions regarding vaccine mandates. Corporations like Tyson Foods and Disney were reportedly discussing the matter with union leaders this week.

United Auto Workers spokesman Brian Rothenberg shared with Just the News a letter that union President Ray Curry distributed to workers this week, one that argued in favor of vaccines generally but indicated the union's opposition to mandates.

"The science is telling us very clearly that the only way to get back to normal is to reach a heightened level of immunity, and the only way to do that is through vaccination," Curry wrote. 

"However," he added, "we also know that for some, there are religious and health reasons for not getting vaccinated."

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