Analysis: hide mandates? Vaccine mandates? For unions, the only mandate is collective bargaining

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TLeaders of the two national teachers’ unions have signaled a change of mind when it comes to requiring COVID-19 vaccination for school workers. While their new immunization advocacy had a number of qualifications, it prompted many previously reluctant state and local unions to follow suit. Governors and school principals interpreted these statements of support as “everything is clear” for instituting immunization mandates.

But unions, like most large bureaucratic organizations, are like oil companies. They are not all right, and it is clear that many affiliates were unprepared for the leadership change or were unwilling to participate.

According to a Center on Reinventing Public Education survey, as of Aug. 13, only 13 of the country’s 100 largest school districts required teachers to be immunized, but the number is steadily rising.

“Unions are in a difficult position,” wrote Time reporter Charlotte Alter. “The reluctance of national unions to adopt immunization mandates has damaged their reputation nationally and angered parents fearing for the safety of their children, but they are reluctant to do anything that could undermine the bargaining power of local unions. “

It is all in a nutshell, and it was evident from the early days of the pandemic. As of May 2020, the California Teachers Association was already issuing notices to bargain to its local affiliates, recommending that they “make sure they have proposals to get something in exchange for concessions.”

As parents and students struggled enormously with e-learning, the union told its locals, “Now is the time to get the language improvements that we have wanted for some time. “

As I understand the current positions of national teachers’ unions, they support universal mask mandates and strongly urge the vaccination of eligible staff and students, with mandatory testing for the unvaccinated. Who should be exempted from these requirements is a matter for local collective bargaining.

These are perfectly defensible positions. The problem is the “collective” part. It doesn’t take much digging to find that there is substantial and organized resistance among union members for each of these measures.

I have previously reported on opposition to the immunization mandates of the presidents of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Spokane Education Association in Washington. There is more.

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Teamsters Local 174, which represents school bus drivers in the Seattle school district, says a vaccination mandate will exacerbate the driver shortage.

“When you actually talk to the people it affects, it’s not political. It’s based on fear. They really feel very strong about it. So the way around that is not to threaten someone’s job, that’s not going to help, ”said Jamie Fleming, spokesperson for Teamsters Local 174.

The Michigan Education Association has announced its support for tests and masks, but opposes vaccination warrants. “Our members are over 90 percent vaccinated right now, according to our records, so we don’t think a mandate is needed right now because so many of our educators were so proactive,” the vice-president said. president Chandra Madaferri.

On the first day of her tenure, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced plans to “seek options to impose vaccines on school workers or require weekly testing in the absence of vaccines.”

“We support the universal wearing of masks as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contact tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts,” replied New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta. “We also support the governor’s decision to require regular COVID testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It is essential that educators continue to have a say in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level. “

The statement significantly failed to support a vaccine requirement.

New York City public schools will require all education workers to be vaccinated, but the statement by United Teachers’ Federation president Michael Mulgrew also falls far short of full support.

As the city asserts its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many details of implementation, including provisions for medical exceptions, which by law must be negotiated with UFT and others. unions and, if necessary, resolved by arbitration, ”he said. .

Even though Mulgrew gets on board, he faces resistance from some of his own members, who have staged a rally against any vaccination mandate. Similar qualms exist in Chicago.

There may be reluctance to vaccinate, but is union members’ support for masking certainly universal? Not so.

In Billings, MT, the school principal issued a memo instituting a mask warrant for all students, staff and visitors, stating that non-compliance would be “unacceptable insubordination and employee will be sanctioned ”.

The Billings Education Association called the memo “inappropriate and insulting,” saying it had a memorandum of understanding with the district that encouraged masks but did not mandate them.

In Trenton, New Jersey, the “Freedom Loving Teachers of NJ” Facebook group held a rally to protest the mask and vaccine warrants.

So what happens when these issues reach collective bargaining? In many places things will be fine. Unions and districts will enter into agreements that reflect the needs and wants of all parties involved. In other places it will be a long and costly battle.

Whenever you issue a general requirement for anything, you need to consider the exceptions. COVID vaccines are no different.

“We call on districts and employers to work directly with educators and their unions to resolve the complexities of vaccinations and accommodations that will need to be made for educators,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.

There is no reason to believe that making these accommodations will be easy or that they will be applied consistently. The Washington Education Association said questions about the exemptions were “pouring in.”

In Connecticut, the governor has issued a vaccination warrant and requires all school employees to submit proof of vaccination. It allowed school administrators to assess exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

“These are the kind of words that, frankly, pay off your lawyers’ mortgages,” said Mark Sommaruga, an attorney who works with school districts on immunization policy.

The problem is that collective bargaining by unions of school employees is ill-suited to determining the most effective public health policies. There is no question that some people cannot or should not receive the COVID vaccine. Should these people, as well as all other employees who are exempted through negotiations, be allowed to come into close contact indoors with unvaccinated children and other employees?

Regardless of your answer to this question, there will be plenty of places where unvaccinated employees will return to work in person, even with a warrant for vaccination. It will therefore depend on the level of risk tolerance of each individual, for himself and for his children. No Memorandum of Understanding will prevail.

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