As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate communities across the country, including in the Pacific Northwest, employers throughout our region – both public and private – are beginning to require coronavirus vaccinations for their workers as a condition of employment. 

On Aug. 9, three of PROTEC17’s biggest employers – the State of Washington, King County, and the City of Seattle – announced that these agencies would require COVID-19 vaccines for all employees who do not have religious or medical exemptions, effective Oct. 18. This will impact over 7,000 PROTEC17 represented positions. 

The mandate is a coordinated effort among Governor Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, to tackle the spread of the Delta variant – a more contagious mutation of the original virus. 

Similarly, PROTEC17 is working with the Washington State Labor Council and other unions on a coordinated approach to protect the health and safety of workers while ensuring they have a voice in these important decisions that impact their livelihoods. 

“As a union, our number one priority is that PROTEC17 members have a healthy, safe, and productive working environment,” said Executive Director Karen Estevenin. “We will be working with our labor partners and employers to ensure that our members have a say in these important decisions about vaccinations.” 

“We encourage all of our members who can get vaccinated to get the vaccine – this is both a workplace safety issue and a public safety issue,” she continued. “But we also have an obligation to advocate on behalf of all members, including those who have not yet been vaccinated. That’s why we are demanding to negotiate over the impacts of vaccine requirements. This is one of the key benefits of having a union – workers have a voice on policy changes like this.” 

As a change in working conditions, the vaccine requirement is prompting many unions, including PROTEC17, to submit a ‘demand to bargain’, which opens up negotiations with the employer to determine how the new policy is implemented. From determining exemption policies, to providing paid leave to get the vaccine and for recovery, to outlining separation procedures for those who do not qualify for exemptions, these negotiations will help determine when and how union members get vaccinated.

As required by law, employers must maintain a safe and healthy working environment. In Washington, this currently includes verifying the vaccination status of employees in the workplace, and ensuring that unvaccinated staff members wear a mask while working indoors. In Oregon, Gov. Brown reinstated the indoor mask policy statewide on Aug. 10. 

PROTEC17 continues to work to ensure that employers provide workplace options that keep everyone safe, and that our members’ voices are heard in any decision-making that affects a healthy and safe workplace. If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to your Union Representative.