Inslee makes COVID vaccines a permanent requirement for many state employees

By Brett Davis / The Central Square

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a directive making COVID-19 vaccines a permanent condition of employment for state employees in executive agencies and small firms, including boosters.

The new vaccination standards for state employees are, according to the directive, intended to rule out any possibility of reverting to tougher actions implemented at the height of the pandemic, including stay-at-home orders and the closure of schools and businesses.

“Widespread vaccination is also the primary means we have as a state to protect our health care system and avoid the return of strict public health measures,” the directive says.

All new state employees should be immunized with the most current vaccines, including supplemental or booster doses recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently state-exempt employees — executives or professionals paid rather than hourly — must be fully vaccinated beginning July 1, 2023.

The directive directs the State Human Resources Division of the Bureau of Financial Management to take the necessary steps to maintain the requirement that state employees not represented by a union be fully immunized, including that they have the most up-to-date vaccinations before July 1, 2023.

The OFM must also “engage with labor organizations on the proposal to require represented employees to maintain the requirement to be fully immunized; and to engage with labor organizations for the 2023-2025 collective bargaining round regarding the proposal to require represented employees to be vaccinated with the most recent vaccination, as recommended by the CDC.

Elizabeth Hovde, director of the Center for Health Care and Center for Worker Rights at the Free Market Washington Policy Center, said she doesn’t understand where Inslee is coming from with this new directive.

“COVID-19 is serious, but it’s no longer a public health crisis,” she told The Center Square in an email. “It has become like other viruses that we have to deal with reasonably and voluntarily. It is neither reasonable nor appropriate. And it serves neither the public nor the state workforce.

According to the state Department of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboardthere are 228 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people and 10% of hospital beds are occupied by patients with COVID-19.

“Working age people – and this would apply to them – have never been the ones who die of COVID-19 in a way that strains hospital resources or the workforce of the hospital. ‘state,” Hovde continued. “Staffing shortages in the public sector and among healthcare workers are exacerbated by the governor’s vaccine mandate, on the other hand.

“From ferries and highway workers to hospitals and first responders, Inslee’s vaccination mandate has ruined careers and family finances, and it has reduced expected levels of service, with no demonstrable health benefits. Now it’s adding a recall requirement to part of the state’s workforce.

Washington’s vaccination mandate for state employees went into effect October 18, 2021.

About 3% of the 63,000 state employees subject to the mandate quit their jobs or were fired just after the deadline for getting the shots expired. One day after the deadline expired, the Office of Financial Management reported 1,887 state employees resigned or were fired for failing to comply with the vaccination mandate.

With Washingtonians currently experiencing record inflation and a shrinking economy as the country emerges from the worst of the pandemic, Hovde questioned the timing of the new directive.

“We are entering a recession and now is not the time to restrict access to jobs,” she said. “Also, if you think unvaccinated people are a threat to public health, they will be threats whether they work for the state or not!”

Late May, Inslee fall the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for outdoor contractors and volunteers whose work does not involve the provision of health care services.

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