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Washington employees union ratifies COVID-19 vaccine agreement with state

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

SEATTLE — Members of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) union approved a tentative agreement with the state over Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

According to the WFSE, the union approved the agreement Thursday night, with more than 80% of ballots cast in favor of ratifying the agreement.

“Our union was able to achieve what we set out for—a victory for public health and due process,” said WFSE President and Psychiatric Social Worker Mike Yestramski.

The WFSE said members will receive an additional leave day, along with vaccine access and education on work time. 

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The agreement also protects employees seeking exemptions from losing their jobs on Oct. 18, which is the deadline set for all state, health care and K-12 employees to be fully vaccinated. 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 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 WFSE said it is now in the process of withdrawing the lawsuit.

“No one has worked harder to combat the COVID-19 pandemic than Washington’s state workers,” said Yestramski. “We understand that vaccination, masking and social distancing are necessary for ending this public health crisis. Now, we have an agreement that incentivizes vaccination and helps ensure a fair process for workers requesting a medical or religious exemption.”