Vaccine Mandates, the Governor’s Executive Orders, and the New Contract Vaccines and WPEA Represented Employees
Since the pandemic began, the Governor has put in place various Executive Orders requiring employees to be vaccinated for Covid-19 – or to have a valid exemption from the vaccine, and an approved accommodation, in order to remain employed. WPEA does not have a contractual requirement for members to be vaccinated in Higher Education. The vaccine requirements have been the result of the Governor’s Executive Orders.
On November 1, 2022, those Executive Orders are expiring. When that happens, higher education employers are free to lift the vaccine requirements for employees. Some employees filling certain positions may still be required to be vaccinated, for example employees in positions funded by specific grants may continue to require vaccinated employees. As with other employers, higher education employers may decide to have certain rules and requirements that are stricter than what is required by law.
On July 1, 2023, the terms and conditions of the new Higher Education contract between the WPEA and the State of Washington will be in effect. All contracts are a compromise - there are contract changes we do like that go along with the changes that we do not like. The 2023 – 2025 Higher Education contract is no exception. This new contract, unlike our current contract, will require vaccination for Covid-19. To be clear, the Employer’s higher education bargaining team, which included representatives from colleges covered by our contract, insisted that the new contract include a vaccine requirement for employees. As bargaining was drawing to a close and your WPEA bargaining team was still refusing to agree to any vaccine requirement in the new contract, the bargaining team for the Employer (which includes the Employer’s representative from your college) insisted that the vaccine requirement for employees be tied to certain economic benefits. For example, the $1000 lump sum payment to employees who receive the Covid-19 booster would only be included in the contract if the vaccine requirement for employees was also included.
Your WPEA bargaining team including the classified staff from the various colleges deliberated and debated long, hard, and passionately on this choice. Not only was this a demand from the Employer in their last, best, and final offer, but your bargaining team understands that the overwhelming majority of our existing members are in fact fully vaccinated. Some unions walked away from the additional lump sum income for their members. WPEA’s bargaining team was not going to turn down additional income available to over 90% of our members if they choose to get a booster, despite other unions making the decision to deny their members that opportunity.
In the end, your bargaining team decided that the economic benefit to you as members who had already been under the vaccine requirement for more than two years, was too great to pass up. Your team decided to go with the economic payments on the table that the Employer’s team had made clear would only be available if a vaccine requirement was also included. Your team represented the interests of our existing members and WPEA members ratified this agreement by an overwhelming majority.
The administration of some colleges are stating that the WPEA required vaccinations in the new contract. To be clear, this is not true. The vaccine requirement was an Employer demand from the very beginning of negotiations. The only way your bargaining team could get the Employer to agree to a contract that did not include a vaccine mandate, was to agree to a contract with a lower economic package to our members. Your bargaining team is charged with negotiating the best possible contract for you as a member. The financial loss of this choice was not one that your bargaining team was willing to make.
If you have any questions about the new contract or vaccine requirements, please contact the local bargaining team member from your college or WPEA Contract Administration Director Amanda Hacker at firstname.lastname@example.org