Since the start of the pandemic, PROTEC17 members in all of our jurisdictions across the Pacific Northwest have continued to provide quality services to the public, and our union has fought hard to secure the protections needed to keep workers safe in these tenuous times. From securing COVID-19 sick leave benefits and solidifying safety protocols at work, to helping members connect to vaccination sites, to fighting for hazard pay and telecommuting options, our number one priority has remained to keep members safe and healthy.
After many of our employers – including our three largest: the City of Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington – announced in mid-August that they would implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy that would go into effect on October 18, PROTEC17 members again jumped into action.
Within an incredibly short timeframe, we surveyed thousands of members, and examined our options to ensure that we had a say in these important decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods. While employers have the legal right to implement policy changes in the workplace, as a union, we have the right to be at the table to negotiate and mitigate the impacts of such changes. This is one of the key benefits of being in a union.
Together, we used our collective power to negotiate agreements with nearly all of our employers that provide incentives, flexibility, and protections for our members, far more than what non-represented workers have received. Most importantly, these agreements demonstrate that we can and should have a voice in decisions at our workplaces.
State of Washington
At the State of Washington, negotiators and members worked with other State labor unions to secure important benefits and protections related to Governor Inslee’s vaccine mandate, such as: protections for those with qualifying medical and religious exemptions; confidentiality and seniority protections; the ability to get the vaccine on work time; one additional personal leave day for those fully vaccinated by Oct. 18; an expedited retirement process and ability to use applicable leaves between Oct. 18 through the end of the year for those who choose to retire; and additional time for employees partially vaccinated by Oct. 18 to get their remaining shot without jeopardizing their employment status.
“As a union, it’s our job to ensure safe and healthy workplaces and protect our members’ rights to due process and legal protections,” said Washington State Patrol Communications Officer and bargaining team member, Mindi Mezek. “I believe we tried our best to work with the system to make a difference for our members. Our agreement represents both of those things; we fought for both public health and due process – and that is a great reason to be a union member!”
At King County, PROTEC17 again worked in coalition with other unions to achieve robust vaccine mandate benefits and protections including: religious and medical exemption protections, paid time to get the vaccine (including travel time), up to 80 hours of additional COVID leave should an employee contract the virus after vaccination; an expedited retirement process and ability to use applicable leave between Oct. 18 and the end of the year should they choose to retire; and reinstatement benefits that would allow employees who separate and subsequently become fully vaccinated to request to be re-employed within two years.
City of Seattle
While simultaneously negotiating the terms of Mayor Durkan’s vaccine mandate, PROTEC17 was also negotiating a delay in the return-to-office date for Seattle members, as well as finalizing the much anticipated hazard pay agreement for frontline workers. Both of these wins were thanks to a petition circulated and signed by over 750 members in just a few days. The agreements pushed the return-to-office date to January 2022, and provides a stipend, with retroactive pay, to those employees who have continued to work with the public throughout the pandemic.
“This continuing public health crisis has created tremendous uncertainty for workers’ health and well-being for over a year and a half,” said Gretchen Waschke, Seattle member and Counselor in the Human Services Department. “This agreement reflects an understanding of the undue risks that our members take as they continue to provide quality services to Seattle residents, and will help keep our communities safer as we weather what may come next in this pandemic.”
As for the vaccine mandate, PROTEC17, along with the Coalition of City Unions, was able to secure many of the same benefits and protections as King County, plus: an additional floating holiday for those who are fully vaccinated by Oct. 5; restoration of up to 24 hours of leave taken prior to the mandate if used for recovery after getting the vaccine; and notice to vendors and contractors working on City sites of the vaccine requirement.
City of Portland
The PROTEC17 negotiations team at the City of Portland was able to secure a robust policy addressing workers seeking a qualifying exemption; workers choosing not to be vaccinated; workers who are partially vaccinated by Oct. 18; workers who have a temporary medical condition that prohibits them from vaccination; as well as additional leave to get vaccinated, and for workers who contract COVID-19 after getting the vaccine.
Many of our health districts also mandated a vaccination policy after President Biden implemented a federal mandate, and Gov. Inslee expanded the requirement to health care workers. From Chelan-Douglas Health District and Spokane Regional Health District, to Skagit County and Kitsap Health District, PROTEC17 public health members negotiated agreements that secured additional protections, expanded timeframes, and added benefits for vaccinated employees.
All of the vaccine mandate agreements negotiated by PROTEC17 were ratified by an overwhelming majority of members – and all within a very quick timeframe. You can find the agreements on the member pages of our website: protec17.org/our-members.
“While this has been a stressful time for workers, we are proud that our members challenged our employers to do what’s best for public health while still honoring our rights to a fair, equitable, and consistent process,” said PROTEC17 Executive Director Karen Estevenin. “By standing together, we achieved our goal of protecting the health, safety, and due process that our members – and all workers – deserve.”