Healthcare unions and hospitals may be headed toward a showdown over coronavirus vaccine mandates.
The largest hospital systems in Massachusetts, including Mass General Brigham, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Wellforce, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, announced Thursday they would require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
"Getting vaccinated right now is the single most important thing that we can do to let our employees know that we are providing the safest environment for patients, their families, and for each other," Dr. Anne Klibanski, chief executive of Mass General Brigham, told the Boston Globe.
That prompted a response from Tim Foley, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
"Vaccination is an important tool to help us move forward, but an employer mandate is not the answer for a healthcare workforce still struggling to recover," Foley said in a statement to the Boston Globe. "A hard-handed approach will create greater frustration.”
1199SEIU represents nurses and other healthcare workers not only in Massachusetts but also in New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Washington, D.C., and New York.
It is in New York that the union has sent out its most serious warning signals.
In mid-June, New York-Presbyterian Hospital announced a vaccine mandate for its employees.
The 1199SEIU president, George Gresham, threatened a lawsuit and possibly even a strike in response.
“Whether there is a legal challenge that we can make, or whether it's just a pure organizational challenge that we can make, we are not going to just give in,” Gresham told WNYC/Gothamist.
1199SEIU is the largest local branch of the national Service Employees International Union. Whether the national SEIU opposes vaccine mandates is not clear. The SEIU did not respond to a request for comment.
The New York Nurses Association also “strongly opposes the mandatory vaccination of health care providers for COVID-19,” according to a statement on its website.
It seems unlikely that the unions will prevail in court.
Workers at Houston Methodist filed suit after 178 employees refused to comply with the hospital’s vaccine mandate. A Texas judge threw the case out. Ultimately, 153 of the employees were either fired or resigned.
Many hospitals also require employees to get a flu vaccine annually. Courts have also upheld those mandates.
Gresham has received the vaccine and said that he encourages his members to get vaccinated as well. But he said that healthcare workers should “have the right to make their decision about their own health.”
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Original Author: David Hogberg
Original Location: Unions and hospitals headed for showdown over vaccine mandates