Vaccine mandate for state workers now in effect, union attorneys claim it violates contract

California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – The state of California’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for employees in the workplace was scheduled to take effect Monday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says the strict rules are intended to halt the spike in infections due largely to the delta variant of the disease. 

The new policy calls employees in state workplaces to be vaccinated or take regular COVID-19 tests and wear masks while on the job. 

How it will be implemented or enforced is unclear since there are 246,000 state employees in dozens of departments and agencies. 

“No one knows exactly what’s going on,” said Richard Lewis Brown, the president of SEIU Local 1000.

SEIU Local 1000 is the largest state employee union with 56,000 dues-paying members and representing over 100,000 workers. 

“Some agencies say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re not going to take any adverse actions against you.’ Other agencies are threatening our representative employees, and not just Local 1000 but the other 11 public sector unions,” Brown told FOX40.

Brown blames Newsom for a haphazard policy that was not thought out. 

Union attorneys say the policy violates its contract that calls for a meet-and-confer process before a change in the terms of employment. 

Jacob McQuirk says the staff at the Department of Water Resources perform vital tasks that can’t be interrupted. 

“I think the vaccinations and the mandatory testing is a good thing, anything we can do to keep our employees safe so we can take care of this critical work is important to me,” McQuirk said.

Before the pandemic, state workplaces often grouped large numbers of workers who interacted with each other and held meetings. 

While it is true that not many workers are back in their offices and are still working from home, there are workers who have to show up at their jobs. Some jobs require interacting with the public. 

The state prison system employs 65,000 workers and only 52% of them are vaccinated.

The Correctional Peace Officer’s Association, which represents 28,000 correctional officers and parole agents, says it favors the new policy.

Brown says his union is not against vaccinations or masks. Instead, he wants the governor to adhere to the union contract. 

“It is not about should I get vaccinated or should I not get vaccinated,” Brown explained. “It’s about the fact that the State of California has violated our contract once again.”

The union has filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board over the new policy. 

They also say that over the past 18 months the state conferred with them dozens of times over COVID-related policies and procedures, but that was not done with the governor’s vaccination policy. 

State officials say if the state and SEIU Local 1000 don’t come to an agreement, the public employment relations board can undergo a dispute resolution process.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Resources told FOX40 that “departments are moving forward with vaccine verification and testing in a health and safety emergency situation.”

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