With new reports of the COVID-19 variant, Port of Olympia Commissioners are planning to provide cash incentives for vaccinated employees.
On Tue., Sept. 7, the Port held a special commission meeting to adopt a resolution requiring staff to get vaccinated or to submit a weekly COVID-19 test. During the meeting, Port Commissioner E.J. Zita suggested that instead of forcing employees to get vaccinated, they could provide an incentive to encourage those who are unvaccinated. Zita added that the incentives would also extend to staff who were previously vaccinated. The port employs 45 people of which 72 percent (32) are currently vaccinated.
Commission Chair Joe Downing agreed. “I’d like to provide some sort of financial incentive,” Downing said. “I’ve been told that any incentive you provide to unvaccinated employees to get vaccinated, you have to apply that to every vaccinated employee at the Port. But so be it,” Downing added, and “a few thousand dollars is small potatoes compared to the discord by having two classes of employees, vaccinated and unvaccinated.”
In a presentation, Port of Olympia General Counsel VaLiesha Brown shared that vaccinated employees must provide proof of their vaccination. This includes presenting any of the following documents; a CDC Vaccination Card, a record from the State immunization information system, or documentation from a health care professional.
Aside from introducing financial incentives, the Port will provide time off for employees to get vaccinated. However, the staff has not determined whether they will also provide time off for those who are unvaccinated to get their weekly tests.
Vaccinated vs. unvaccinated
Brown also clarified that since unvaccinated people are not a protected class, the rules against discrimination cannot apply. However, she believed that it is still necessary for the Port to promote equity and inclusion. “We wanted to make sure that we are not falling to what I’ve seen as this becoming vaccinated versus unvaccinated. People have been thinking that because they are unvaccinated, they are being treated differently, that this is a situation where they are being discriminated against.”
Downing also acknowledged that the Port must provide options for employees, while at the same time, ensuring a safe working environment. As Commissioner Bill McGregor explained, “We have a duty here to meet the safety of our employees...but we also have a duty to allow them to make a choice. They can either vaccinate or not vaccinate...This resolution will indicate that if they choose not to vaccinate then there’s additional requirements.”
Downing suggested the Commissioners release a letter to inform the Port staff of the resolution.
Commissioner Zita responded, “I appreciate you asking Commissioner Downing, I don’t know why you have published other letters this year without consulting us, so is this a new policy?”
McGregor intervened and reminded the commissioners that they are discussing an urgent issue, “I don’t want to get into that tit for tat I think that the situation is important enough that we need to move it along.”
The Commissioners adopted the resolution for the vaccination requirement and agreed to release the by letter Friday.
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