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Washington state employees union reaches tentative agreement on vaccine mandate

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Washington state employees union reaches tentative agreement on vaccine mandate

September 08, 01:00 PM September 08, 01:00 PM

The largest state employee union in Washington has reached a tentative agreement with Gov. Jay Inslee over his vaccine mandate.

In August, Inslee issued an executive order requiring all state workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. The Washington Federation of State Employees, representing about 47,000 workers, sued Inslee, claiming unfair labor practices.

WSFE members will vote this week to ratify the agreement. While it does not change the Oct. 18 deadline or substantially revise Inslee’s executive order, it does provide some wiggle room for those employees choosing to seek a religious or medical exemption.

For example, an employee who seeks an exemption but is denied can request 45 days of paid or unpaid leave to get fully vaccinated. The same 45-day window will apply to those employees whose exemption is approved while the state and union work on accommodations to move the person into a different role to ensure they interact with as few people as possible.

“This agreement is a victory for both public health and due process,” WSFE President Mike Yestramski said in a statement. “It puts in place a fair, equitable and consistent process for members seeking a legitimate exemption to the mandate.”

If a union member requests an exemption by next Monday but a decision has not been made by the Oct. 18 deadline, that person will continue to be paid and will not face termination proceedings until a decision is made.

Employees eligible to retire by the end of the calendar year who do not want to get vaccinated can do so without getting fired if they submit their paperwork by Oct. 18. Workers in that category will be able to use accrued leave or take unpaid leave after Oct. 18 until their retirement date.

If the deal is approved, workers who are vaccinated by Oct. 18 will get an additional day of personal leave that they can use in 2022. Employees can also take time off during the workday to get vaccinated without seeing their pay docked.

“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 work places,” according to a statement from Inslee’s office.

Inslee’s vaccine mandate also applies to teachers and staff in K-12 schools and public universities. Unions representing those employees have not announced any legal action against the governor thus far.

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