Vol. 2 | No. 5
A DISCUSSION ABOUT VACCINE MANDATES
A Discussion About VACCINE MANDATES
n the time of COVID-19, the idea of having a conversation about something as political as masks or vaccine mandates can be stressful for anyone. However, the key to being perceived as an effective workplace leader is engaging folks who may be uninformed or angry about the state of things. There is a lot to consider when deciding to engage co-workers about hot button issues. Mainly, you want to be seen as a resource for information rather than as another authority figure working to force your will against individual freedom. Consider the possibility of avoiding this quagmire by providing information that people may have missed in a non-confrontational manner. Basic facts may not be recognized due to splintered sources of news available across all types of media. Finding the space between perceived authoritarian and provider of reliable information is where you can become a helpful resource.
Here are Six Things to Remember When Talking to Co-workers about Vaccine Mandates:
Remind your co-workers that you are on their side
Realize that there are a number of elements that are simply out of the control of workplace leaders when it comes to workplace regulations. With that reality in mind, it is best to handle what is in your power and make it clear where you stand on the rest. As a union steward you have what is called, “duty of fair representation.” It means you must represent all of your members equally regardless of race, religion, gender or any other factors around identity. Even as a non-union workplace leader it is healthy to always exercise this approach. Keeping this guideline in mind will help you to keep your integrity when you disagree with positions on difficult issues taken by members and co-workers. However, duty of fair representation does not mean that you have to agree with someone who is completely wrong or misinformed. And disagreeing
with someone does not mean that you are against them or not on their side. To establish your position as a workplace ally you can kindly provide factual information without getting into arguments that create long term divisions between people who need each other to succeed.
Acknowledge your co-workers’ fears as legitimate but share facts
Before jumping into a conversation defending vaccine mandates and vaccines themselves, take a moment to acknowledge the fears that folks have. It is understandable for people to be hesitant about taking a vaccine that was developed rapidly. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in less than a year after the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines. Johnson &
SIX THINGS TO REMEMBER
Johnson’s viral vector COVID-19 vaccine followed only a few months later. Since then, hundreds of millions of people have gotten at least one jab with little to no side effects. Significantly, the vast majority of people in the United States who are dying from COVID are unvaccinated. Remind your co-workers that However, there have been you are on their side “breakthrough cases.” A Acknowledge your co-workers’ fears rs s breakthrough case is when a as legitimate but share facts fully vaccinated person still Present data from non-governmental al contracts COVID-19. organizations perceived as neutral ral al Pretending that vaccines are always 100% effective and not acknowledging some of the nuances could backfire and create more animosity.
Present the facts on what the COVID-19 vaccines have done
resent data from P non-governmental organizations perceived as neutral
In the last decade there has been a tremendous amount of distrust directed at the Federal government. Without wading into this highly politicized argument, you can present data from non-governmental organizations that have a well-regarded history and presence in the medical field like universities and international health organizations. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Johns Hopkins University are two good examples. Remember, this is a worldwide pandemic creating hardships around the globe, not just here in the U.S.
Present the facts on what the COVID-19 vaccines have done
Numbers are difficult to refute. When you present statistics that show the effectiveness of vaccines not everyone will be convinced, but you may be able to inform someone who simply never heard these facts. For example, according to Johns Hopkins University, “based on clinical trials, the first two vaccines were shown to be extremely effective at preventing COVID-19: Pfizer (95%) and Moderna (94.1%)”. UnionBase.org |
Know K ow Kn w how how w the the law law impacts imp pac a ts your industry y urr ind yo dus str tryy Understand where your employer U stands on vaccines
Know how the law impacts your industry
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) law provides a strong legal standing for the current administration on vaccine mandates, stating, “All employers with 100+ employees are to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly, and to pay for vaccination time.” A provision written in 1970 states, “The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 authorizes the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor to implement emergency rules, without the formal notice and comment process, when employees are exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards.” Just as OSHA attempts to limit workplace exposure to cancer-causing agents and physical hazards, they seek to minimize job-related deaths and illnesses due to COVID-19.
Understand where your employer stands on vaccines
Depending on your industry there may be a level of urgency to getting vaccinated in order to protect customers and workers. For example, flight attendants regularly come in contact with passengers in a close space whereas web developers can work from home. Make sure that member leaders from your union or worker organization are well versed in the industry standards on vaccination and the challenges you may face because of your particular job requirements. When speaking with employees be sure to speak from a high level about the industry and bring concrete examples of what is happening across your sector. The most important thing to remember when having these conversations is that even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over we all have to work together. Do your best to lead with respect and not talk down to anyone. We all have things to learn! z 3
MEDIATING MANDATES How to Navigate Tensions in a New Age of Public Health Mandates
or a year and a half our lives have been upended, and everyone has had enough: enough of the changing guidelines, the extra safety protocols, and the stress. We all want to feel normal. Unfortunately, with new mutations of the COVID-19 virus (variants) springing up at the same time that people are desperate to return to their old lives, one thing is for certain: the new normal will not look like the old. Enter the mandates. Whether at the state, county, or municipal level, mandates on the wearing of masks in public places or maintaining social distancing have been chafing people’s last nerves, never mind their faces. Yet there is no mandate more controversial than vaccination mandates. Even more than a requirement to wear a mask, a vaccine mandate directly concerns a person’s sense of bodily autonomy and freedom of choice in medical decision-making. It pits an individual’s bodily autonomy against UnionBase.org |
communal responsibilities. Think about it long enough and it becomes clear that it would almost be strange if there weren’t any controversy around vaccine — or any other! — mandates. In the U.S., we have a culture of individual self-determination that goes back to the very beginning. Until recent decades though, we have balanced that spirit of individualism with the shared responsibilities of citizenship, from paying those dreaded taxes to maybe even serving involuntarily in a war. Such collective action was generally seen as
supporting the best interests of the nation and our freedoms. For decades now, however, many of us have had it good. Really good. No American has been forced into military service in nearly half a century. Few native-born Americans can remember the quarantines and harsh lockdowns of polio or tuberculosis outbreaks that were imposed in order to protect citizens from these dreaded diseases. Only our most senior citizens can remember world war and the Great Depression’s hardships. The public health mandates that are now being proposed and, in some cases, being implemented to combat COVID, represent the first time most contemporary Americans have had to consider their individual health-related choices in the context of the Mediating Mandates continues >
How to Navigate Tensions in a New Age of Public Health Mandates ▼ continued
nation’s health. Free from total war, disease, and economic collapse, those of us alive today have been able to enjoy many freedoms without thinking about shared responsibilities. That time, it is safe to say, is now passed. What every union leader, shop steward, or anyone with a TV can readily see is that millions of Americans are in no hurry to accept any imposition, even if it means the health of their colleagues, their families or themselves. Many view the requirement of wearing a mask in a grocery store to be a symbol of fear and see vaccine mandates as a form of “medical tyranny.” At the time of this publication, every aspect of the pandemic, including vaccinations, has been politicized. Nothing any of us can say or do can change that unfortunate truth. The best we can hope to accomplish is to cool tempers and redirect anger away from workplace leaders and unions.
Once trust is earned, information can flow freely. Rather than being the target of abuse and scorn, a steward can be a resource for information. It sounds like optimism, but it actually is attainable. Members who are disgruntled about mandates and who believe their union is not “protecting” them will need to learn that this is something beyond the workplace and their union. Businesses have the right to impose many conditions on their employees, from required uniforms to no-smoking policies. Statewide mandates come from the governor or the state’s health department. State laws come from
the legislature. Mandates covering places of work in the public sector, from school systems to libraries and transit systems, usually come from the city, county, or an intergovernmental agency. Workers who wish to question the law or public policy need to take it up with their elected representatives. For those of us in a union, those matters are out of our hands. As leaders, we can make an opportunity out of what currently feels like a nightmare. By listening to upset members, we can show that the union cares about their views. It’s good for us, for members, and for the whole union. z
Grievance Interviewing with the ‘Five Ws’ Workers bring all kinds of issues to their stewards and workplace leaders and every issue isn’t always cut-and-dried. Using the ‘Five Ws’ is the key to good interviewing skills in the process of gathering information:
No matter how any of us as leaders feel toward the arguments and sentiments of the vaccine hesitant, it is clear that these are people who do not feel heard. They have certainly been indulged for many months, although that is not their perception. We can’t change their minds through persuasion (many world governments have tried) but we can earn some trust by listening.
WHO is the worker? (Name, job title, shift, etc.); WHO witnessed or was involved in the incident? WHO was involved on the management side?
Listening patiently is not just an idle exercise. It takes a great deal of emotional intelligence and strength on behalf of a steward. It also yields a valuable return on investment in the form of trust and respect from the person who feels they have been heard. Fighting back or even calmly resorting to logic won’t help. If they need airtime, we need to give it to them.
WHERE did the incident happen?
WHAT happened (or failed to happen)? WHAT did management say, do, or fail to do? WHAT happened in the past? WHAT is the remedy? WHEN did the incident happen? WHY did the incident happen?
Stewards and workplace leaders often find it useful to write these questions out ahead of time and refer to them during the interview.
– Adapted with thanks from an article by Pat Thomas.
Complaints Against Boss are ‘PROTECTED’ Activity
tech worker who was upset at losing work assignments wrote a long email of complaint to his management. He hardly got the response he wanted: he was fired.
His Machinists Union local grieved and the case eventually went to arbitration, where he won his job back with full back pay. The arbitrator determined that the email had been “long, detailed and temperate” in nature and that while it may have offended management it did not violate his freedom to comment.1 This case brings up the question of what rights a worker has to free speech. Can he or she speak out against the boss? Can the worker express a political opinion? Can he or she make a Facebook entry critical of the employer? Can the worker speak up on the shop floor or in the office? While workers in the private sector have no inherent right of free speech under the First Amendment, there are circumstances when they can speak out, as was shown by the Machinists Union case cited above. Where there is a union contract, workers usually have more freedom to be critical of their employers, whether the criticism is made on the job or off the job. The National Labor Relations Act also offers protections to worker freedom of speech. According to one legal expert, “Under the NLRA, employees have the
right to engage in speech and expression related to working conditions which could include discussing compensation and benefits, supporting social or political causes such as fair wages, among other issues.”2 These protections exist in both union and nonunion worksites. Freedom of speech issues often arise in union organizing situations or when a union may be engaged in difficult negotiations with an employer. The right to be critical of an employer should usually protect a worker for wearing a tee-shirt, a button, hat or other piece of clothing with a campaign slogan or phrase. Note the qualifying “usually.” Such an expression may be prohibited by an employer if it would tend to hinder production, disrupt normal commerce or cause undue disruptions in business. In union settings, any discipline resulting from such a case would have to be settled through the grievance procedure, with possible eventual arbitration. Public employees can rely on their First Amendment rights when they speak out, since the Constitution protects the right of citizens to be critical of their governments. Such workers are not only employees, but they are also citizens.
❝Where there is a union contract, workers usually have more freedom to be critical of their employers...❞ Take the case of two sheriff’s deputies who were given written warnings for online statements they made that the sheriff’s department had conducted no medical training in the previous six years. An arbitrator ruled the warning notices be removed, since the online statements pertained to matters of public interest, were comments of private citizens and did not disrupt the services of the department.3 In summary, workers have limited rights to free speech, and those rights will vary from workplace to workplace and situation to situation. Of course, workers’ rights to comment would not extend to the use of threats and calls for violence. – Ken Germanson. The author is a veteran labor journalist.
1 M achinists District Lodge 776 and C2 Technologies. Stanley H. Sergent, arbitrator. March 4, 2014. 2 National Law Review, Feb. 11, 2021. www.natlawreview.com/article/free-speech-and-expression-2021-workplace 3 Wright County Deputies Assn. and Wright County, Minn. Stephen F. Befort, arbitrator. Nov 21, 2016. Workplace Leader is published six times a year by UnionBase. Contents ©2021 UnionBase. Reproduction in whole or in part electronically, by photocopy, or any other means without the written consent of UnionBase is prohibited. | Cover art produced by Billy Buntin of BBDigital Media. Layout & Design by Chadick+Kimball.