Watching unions fight employer policies mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, I can’t help but think that unions are repeating an old mistake by putting the interests of a few misguided members above that of the good. be of all of their members.
This week, the New York State United Teachers Union expressed his opposition after Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged schools to adopt such requirements. The International Union of Service Employees 1199 rallied in late July to protest the New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s vaccine requirement for its workers (who are already required get vaccinated against other diseases). Unions are careful to say they support vaccinations in general, and they urge employers to make it easier for workers to get vaccinated. But the warrants, they argue, are a bridge too far.
One would think that nurses and teachers‘ unions – workers who dedicate their lives to caring for others and who have been hit harder than most by the pandemic – would be hungry for a policy that promotes workplace safety. for all their members, including the most vulnerable. These unions, more than anyone else, should understand that vaccination is not just a personal health decision, but a form of solidarity.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Trade unions also have opposing interests. If employers require vaccinations, members who refuse can be fired. And unions rarely welcome new policies imposed by top management with no room for negotiation. Perhaps unions see themselves first and foremost as guarding against rules that endanger the employment of their members, whatever the justification, even if that means allowing members to endanger the lives of their members. other members.
It’s a shame. As unions recognize, COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and effective in stopping serious illness. They also slow the spread of the virus, protecting other workers, as well as their patients and students, who may be too young for vaccines. the AFL-CIO, the largest trade union federation in the country, has spoken out in favor of compulsory vaccination. And the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities has Employer mandates OKed, provided they include appropriate exemptions based on disability and religion. (I’ll save my rant on this last one for later.)
It is also a very narrow view of the role of a union. Isn’t a safe working environment as much a part of workplace justice as dismissal protections? Why not adopt the vaccination requirements as a union demand, not just a union concession?
All of this reminds me of the unfortunate record of some unions with regard to sexual harassment. Historically, many male-dominated unions viewed their work on workplace harassment only as a defense of their members who had been accused.
To take the United Auto Workers Union. In 1996, the EEOC filed a massive complaint against Mitsubishi on behalf of women victimized at one of its factories. The allegations were not new to the UAW or its local. The union has received many complaints from women workers. But rather than help solve the problem, the union declined to investigate complaints of sexual harassment filed by workers if the alleged harasser was also a member. Local union officials would, in these circumstances, facilitate “remedies” without any written record. Solidarity, in their eyes, meant aspiring to it.
It is only in recent years that many unions have come to recognize that protecting workers means protecting them from sexual harassment, although sometimes another member may be penalized.
Solidarity does not force the most vulnerable to turn the other cheek when their colleagues threaten their safety. Instead, unions can and should advocate for policies on sexual harassment that are fair to everyone involved, the victims and the accused.
The same should be true for COVID vaccinations. Of course, unions could reasonably demand the ability to negotiate with employers to ensure immunization policies are worded wisely, as the American Federation of Teachers has done. They should make efforts to promote access and education so that the mandates do not have disparate impacts on marginalized racial and socio-economic groups. And, just as with allegations of sexual harassment, unions must ensure that employees subject to sanctions are subject to appropriate procedures.
But they should avoid the mistake many have made with sexual harassment, placing the desires of a few bad actors above the well-being of their entire membership.