Who saw this coming? Public sector unions may save America from a vaccine mandate

President Joe Biden and his administration are getting a surprising amount of pushback over new COVID masking guidelines from an unexpected, pro-Democrat source — major unions.

Public sector unions that have a lot of pull within the party are rebelling somewhat against the administration’s requirement that federal employees get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be forced to wear masks, socially distance, and undergo weekly testing, The Hill reported Saturday afternoon.

“While labor groups representing government employees have urged their members to get vaccinated, most of the leading public sector unions either oppose the vaccine requirement or say it must first be negotiated,” the outlet noted.

While a couple of public-sector unions came out in support of the Biden administration’s vaccination plan, several others that represent a variety of industries including education, postal workers, Treasury Department staffers, and law enforcement as well as other government workers are unsure about the requirement and said as much last week after the president made the announcement.

“We expect that the particulars of any changes to working conditions, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines and associated protocols, be properly negotiated with our bargaining units prior to implementation,” said Everett Kelley, head of the nearly 700,000-strong American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Larry Cosme, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said that forcing members to get a vaccine “is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it.”

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, noted in a statement that his members have “a lot of questions about how this policy will be implemented and how employee rights and privacy will be protected.”

The majority of public sector unions who are now expressing concerns about the vaccine mandate endorsed Biden’s 2020 election and hailed his efforts to build up the federal workforce after four years of criticism and budget-cutting under former President Donald Trump, The Hill noted.

However, that support is not being extended to his vaccine mandate, which at present is not being pushed to the larger private sector.

“In order for everyone to feel safe and welcome in their workplaces, vaccinations must be negotiated between employers and workers, not coerced,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement last week following Biden’s announcement. Her organization “represents educators and health care workers at various levels of government,” The Hill added.

And the American Postal Workers Union observed that “it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent.” The union added that any new requirements and mandates would be subjected to discussion among union members.

Some analysts said they did not find the union responses all that extraordinary.

“As a matter of principle, union leaders just don’t like anything called a ‘mandate’ that comes from management where they’re cut out of the bargain,” Daniel DiSalvo, a professor and chair of political science at the Colin Powell School at the City College of New York (CUNY) told The Hill.

The White House actually anticipated some push-back from unions, noting in a Thursday memo that “agencies are reminded to satisfy applicable collective bargaining obligations” when implementing new vaccine rules.

Jon Dougherty

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