Various hospitals and healthcare unions across the nation appear to be headed for an imminent showdown over COVID vaccine measures, specifically with regards to mandating vaccines for employees.
Massachusetts, which has the largest hospital system in the nation, including the enormous Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Wellforce, Beth Israel Lahey Health, and Mass General Brigham, recently announced that they would require for all over their employees to receive the COVID vaccine.
According to Dr. Anne Klibanski, who serves as the chief executive of Mass General Brigham, receiving a vaccination now “is the single most important thing that we can do” to ensure that the hospital’s employees are providing the safest environment for each other, for other patients, and for their families.
This statement elicited a response from Tim Foley, who serves as executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
Foley acknowledged that the COVID vaccine “is an important tool to help us move forward,” but he also argued that an employer mandate is simply not the answer for healthcare workers that are still in the process of recovery. He also added that “a hard-handed approach will create greater frustration” amongst all stakeholder.
The 1199SEIU union provides representation for nurses and other healthcare workers in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Washington, D.C. in addition to Massachusetts.
The New York branch of the union has also issued the most serious warnings to its healthcare workers. For instance, in mid-June, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital announced that all of its employees would need to be vaccinated.
In response, George Gresham, the 1199SEIU president, threatened massive litigation, including even the possibility of a healthcare workers’ strike.
Gresham stated that it is unclear whether or not “there is a legal challenge” that can be made, or whether or not “it’s just a pure organizational challenge” that can be made, but he clearly asserted, “we are not going to just give in.”
The 1199SEIU union constitutes the most significantly sized local branch of the national Service Employees International Union. It is not clear whether or not the national SEIU opposes the vaccine mandates; it did not return requests for comment.
In addition, the New York Nurses Association also vehemently “opposed the mandatory vaccination” of healthcare workers for COVID-19, per a statement available on its website.
However, it does not appear that the unions will be able to prevail in court.
At Houston Methodist, numerous workers filed a lawsuit after 178 employees declined to comply with the hospital’s imposed vaccine mandate. However, a Texas judge ultimately rejected the case, which resulted in the firing or resignation of 153 employees at Houston Methodist.
Numerous hospitals also require employees to receive the flu vaccine on an annual basis. In general courts have supported these mandates and sided with the employer.
In addition, Gresham notes that he has received the vaccine and that he highly encourages his members to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. However, he also added that healthcare workers should have the freedom to make the right decisions “about their own health.”