Employee union sues Inslee over strict vaccine mandate

In response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s stringent vaccine mandate announced earlier this month, the Washington Federation of State Employers (WFSE) filed a lawsuit against the governor in Thurston County Superior Court on Thursday in an attempt to stop the mandate from being implemented. 

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

The mandate, which would require most educators, health care workers, and state employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 18, has garnered mixed responses from organizations across the state. In contrast to employers, those working in the education and health care sectors have been largely supportive of the mandate.

The lawsuit asserts that, during bargaining sessions over the mandate between the state and the employee union, state representatives constantly struck down all of the union’s proposals to amend or mitigate the impacts of the mandate, and offered no counter-proposals to reach an agreement with the union. 

The lawsuit also alleges that, by allowing the mandate to take effect without an agreement with the union, “the legal rights of employees represented by the WFSE will be irreparably harmed and impaired, and they will be denied any meaningful and effective remedy.”

In a news release, WFSE President Mike Yestramski stated:

“Our union’s top priority is health and safety — for staff and the public we serve. That is why we need the state to make a good faith effort to bargain and to really think through how they’re going to implement this mandate in a safe, fair and consistent manner.”

Many employers have expressed concerns that the mandate would cause employees to quit. Yestramski asserts the state’s need to specify how workers can qualify for exemptions for religious or medical reasons, as well as for dealing with staffing concerns.

Since the mandate was announced, vaccination rates across the state have risen. According to DOH data, the vaccination rate for the week of Aug. 26 was 21% higher than the previous week and 34% higher than the week before that. This rise in vaccinations comes during a period of drastically increased cases and hospitalizations in the state due to the delta variant. 

Inslee’s office issued a statement disagreeing with the union’s allegations. Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk further defended the necessity of the mandate. 

“Employees are losing their lives to COVID. Hospitals are filling up. Communities are stressed by the pandemic’s impacts. The safest and most effective way to get beyond these tragic circumstances is vaccination.”