After meeting with the State on Sunday to bargain the impacts of the Governor’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the mediator has declared we are at impasse.
Recognizing the mandate itself is not something we can bargain over, our Union negotiation committee focused its efforts on a fair process for employees seeking exemptions from the mandate, ensuring eligible employees are able to retire, and making sure that, after the October 18 deadline, the State will be able to provide a safe working environment for staff and humane conditions for the incarcerated population.
We knew negotiations would be hard, but we hoped the State would partner with us to achieve our shared interests. Unfortunately, in an all too familiar pattern, the State approached negotiations with zero flexibility and zero creativity. Instead, the State presented us with the same boiler-plate package of proposals it has presented to the other unions and refused to meaningfully move from those positions.
The State wanted us to agree to fast-track a “non-disciplinary separation” process for employees who do not meet the October 18 deadline. Creating a new way for the State to terminate Teamsters 117 members was not something our bargaining committee was interested in. Additionally, the State refused to hear that, unlike other State employees, we are facing a serious staffing crisis and the real possibility of unsafe working conditions after October 18.
It is unacceptable that, even now in this time of crisis, the Governor still refuses to give his bargaining representatives the authority to pass proposals that are specific to DOC. It is also incredibly frustrating that the State is refusing to listen to its own workers who have repeatedly warned that the mandate is creating a public safety risk at the Department of Corrections.
In fact, the only formal proposal the State has passed us is a proposal that, as discussed in my previous email, we believe is unlawful because it would erode the rights and protections we have already bargained into our contract.
Here is what will happen next
We will be moving our vaccine proposals, which include retention incentives and compensation for additional duties related to staffing shortages, to interest arbitration where a third party will decide whether to award them. We will update you about the timeline for a hearing.
Even though our negotiations are at impasse, because the Governor’s proclamation has the force of law, the vaccine requirement will still be implemented on October 18. That means you will not be able to perform work for DOC after October 18 if you have not been vaccinated. If you have not yet been vaccinated and intend to remain employed at DOC, it is important that you get vaccinated with the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine as soon as possible.
Requests for Accommodations
If you have requested a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine mandate please contact your Union Representative to help you with the interactive process. After submitting your request, you will likely need to have follow-up meetings with a human resources representative to discuss accommodation options. Your Union Representative can help you navigate those processes.
We have strong language in our contract that protects you during separation actions, such as the State’s attempts to separate you for failing to be fully vaccinated. If the DOC is threatening to separate you and you have submitted a request for an exemption, or if you intend to become vaccinated but will be unable to do so by the deadline, contact your Union Representative right away.
If you are planning to retire from DOC, we encourage you to apply for retirement and inform DOC of your anticipated retirement date. If you are planning to retire and not receive the vaccine, you cannot perform any work for the DOC after October 18. This means you will need to utilize personal leave until your retirement date.
Thank you for all you are doing. With everything going on, it is more important than ever for front line staff to have each other’s backs. Please be kind to each other and stay safe. Together we will get through this.
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