Over the last several days, we have heard from many of you about the Governor's decision to mandate COVID vaccines. In this incredibly stressful time, we wanted to make sure you know the many fronts your Union has been working on to advocate on your behalf.

On Friday, our Union's leadership met directly with Governor Inslee. We requested that urgent meeting with the Governor to elevate your concerns. Present at the meeting were the Governor and members of his staff along Secretary-Treasurer John Scearcy, President Michelle Woodrow, and our Union's Vice President Brenda Wiest, who also serves as your Legislative Director. We discussed staff safety, the time needed to engage in meaningful bargaining over the mandate, and the concern that the Department of Corrections is not prepared operationally to implement the mandate.

We spoke frankly with the Governor, acknowledging the public health emergency and the grave impact the pandemic has had on our communities. At the same time, we made it clear that imposing this mandate without listening to the concerns of our membership and without mitigating its impact could endanger our members and put public safety at risk. 

Throughout the day, we had additional meetings with the Governor's staff and the Office of Financial Management. We agreed to a negotiations process for Teamsters corrections employees that will begin next week. There we intend to address safety protocols, paid leave, unemployment benefits, and a range of other accommodations. Those negotiations will run concurrently with our interest arbitration hearing, which will be challenging for both parties. Still, we've received a commitment from the State to make themselves available during the evenings and weekends.

Since the Governor's proclamation, we have been preparing for the vaccine negotiations. We have submitted an extensive information request to the DOC. We have also consulted with in-house attorneys and an outside law firm on the legality of the mandate. Stopping the mandate is not an option. Our focus is to maintain a strong position and demand the State make reasonable accommodations, protect staff safety, and take steps to maintain the safe operations of our prisons now and into the future.

Again, we know this is an incredibly challenging time for many of you as you grapple with profound decisions about your health and employment. Please educate yourself, speak with your family doctor or trusted advisor, and learn as much as you can about the vaccine so you can make the right decision for yourself and your family. To learn more, you can also access a video recording of a Vaccine Town Hall that was recently hosted by the Washington State Labor Council here.

Over the past 18 months, you have done incredible work that continues to be extremely difficult, but by standing together, we will get through this. Thank you for your dedication as a public servant in these most difficult times. Please stay safe and expect regular updates while we are bargaining.