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Washington state employees union reaches tentative agreement with state over COVID vaccine mandate

The agreement would protect employees who are still seeking exemptions and employees who are in the process of being vaccinated from losing their jobs on Oct. 18.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) reached a tentative agreement with the state over Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The WFSE, which represents 47,000 state employees, previously filed a lawsuit asking a judge to stop the mandate from going into effect on Sept. 3 after the union and the state failed to reach a bargaining agreement over the exemption process. 

The agreement, announced Saturday, would protect employees seeking exemptions from losing their jobs on Oct. 18, which is the deadline set for state, healthcare and K-12 employees to be fully vaccinated. 

If the agreement is ratified by members, employees who submit their exemption requests by Sept. 13 will suffer no loss in pay if their requests are still being reviewed by the vaccination deadline. 

Employees who are denied an exemption request will be able to take up to 45 days of leave in order to complete their vaccination series. Employees who got their first shot late and will not be fully vaccinated in time for the deadline will also be allowed to take up to 30 days of leave without pay in order to become fully vaccinated, but must do so before Nov. 17. 

Employees who plan to retire by the end of the year will be able to take a combination of annual leave and unpaid leave until their retirement date if they choose not to get vaccinated. 

The agreement also grants state employees an extra personal day as a vaccine incentive, clarifies confidentiality rules around exemptions and requires employers to compensate employees for mandatory COVID-19 tests. Employees who are made to quarantine until they get their result back will have their leave reimbursed if the test comes back negative. 

Inslee's office said the agreement "affirm[s] the requirement for state employees who are not covered by a recognized exemption to be vaccinated by October 18. Both sides worked on terms to ensure employees receive the appropriate support and resources to meet this deadline." 

"The goal throughout the implementation is to achieve increased vaccinations within our workforce," Inslee's office said. "We are confident that through our negotiation efforts and partnership going forward, we have clarified issues to help employees get on the path towards vaccination and ultimately provide for safer workplaces."