Largest public union reaches pact on vaccine mandate

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Washington state's largest union of public workers has reached an agreement with the state on Gov. Jay Inslee's vaccine mandate.

The deal ensures access to and education about the shot on work time as well as an additional day of leave so workers can get vaccinated. The Washington Federation of State Employees filed a lawsuit in August to compel the state to negotiate in good faith on the details of the mandate.

Union members voted to accept the deal in an online election that ended Thu., Sept. 9 

Union president Mike Yestramski said the agreement is a win for public health and due process.

"This entire bargaining process and that lawsuit that we had filed," said Yestramski, "all of that was about impact bargaining and the fundamental right of unions to bargain workplace conditions." The Washington Federation of State Employees is withdrawing that lawsuit.

In its complaint, the union alleged that Inslee failed to negotiate in good faith before he declared the state’s mandatory vaccination requirement. The mandate provides that state employees working under the executive cabinets are required to get vaccinated by Oct. 18. 

The agreement also includes options for people near retirement and a consistent and equitable process across workplaces for employees seeking a medical or religious exemption.

More than 80% of members voted in favor of the agreement.

Yestramski said the union has continued to push for safety measures in the face of this virus.

"We've been pretty vocal," said Yestramski, "pretty open from the beginning of this pandemic that vaccination, masking, social distancing, all of those things are incredibly important pieces to end this pandemic and to keep our communities safe."

The Washington Federation of State Employees' includes 47,000 public service workers in state agencies, higher education and behavioral health.

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