Labor unions voice concern over COVID vaccine mandates for workers

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Employers are considering 'get vaccinated or get fired' requirements for workers — and that has unions concerned.

As part of the nation's vaccine rollout, employers are now considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers, with at least one already requiring the shot, but labor unions are concerned about the directive.

Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is already requiring that the nearly 500 employees of the Neshaminy Manor nursing home must receive the second of two vaccine shots by the end of March or face potential termination, according to the Bucks County Courier Times.

The county, which owns the nursing home, issued the mandate after less than half of its employees opted to receive the first shot when it became available to them last month. At least 85 patients have died at Neshaminy Manor, and over 100 staff members have tested positive.

Other employers are considering a similar requirement for their workers.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby spoke to workers in a Thursday meeting, saying, "I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory."

He added that if other employers do start to require vaccines, "you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it."

But some labor unions are expressing concerns about such a requirement.

Tom Tosti is the director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 88, which represents Neshaminy Manor workers. He spoke out against the nursing home's vaccine requirement at a county commissioners' board meeting on Wednesday.

"Before we say get vaccinated or get fired or, as you like to call it, 'laid off' but without unemployment compensation benefits, let’s negotiate a better way of educating and encouraging staff to get vaccinated," Tosti said at a county commissioners' board meeting last week.

He said employers should consult with worker unions before implementing any vaccine requirements.

Kim Cordova, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union — which represents 1.3 million workers in the grocery, food processing, and health care industries — voiced similar concerns.

"They could not make that mandatory in the middle of a contract unless the state or the government required it," Cordova told the Hill. She said she expects some workers to object to the shot due to allergies or religious reasons, adding that workers "want freedom of health care choices."

Michael Klemm, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 141, called the issue "a sensitive topic." Klemm represents fleet and passenger service workers at United Airlines.

He told CNBC in an email that the issue of vaccine mandates is "certainly a sensitive topic all the way around."

"We've received some frustration from members who don’t want to take the vaccine as well as concern from members who don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t take it," Klemm said.

But union members who refuse to be inoculated and face any disciplinary action can file a grievance, Klemm noted, adding that employees with a religious belief or disability can file a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.

Meanwhile, Bucks County said it will consider exemptions for the vaccine, case-by-case, for nursing home employees citing medical or religious reasons, the Courier Times noted.

"Personally, I will be happy to roll up my sleeve to get vaccinated when it’s my turn," Tosti said. "But that is my own personal decision."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.