December 1, 2021

Bargaining over COVID-19 vaccine requirements doesn’t mean unions oppose mandates: EPI’s Dave Kamper provides a Twitter reality check

2 min read

Unions across the country are working on doing what’s right for society and their members when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But there has been some misplaced criticism directed toward unions, especially public-sector unions who engage in “impact bargaining” with their employer over COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

To put it all in perspective, Dave Kamper, senior state policy coordinator for the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) at the Economic Policy Institute, took to social media to break down the mandate issue and also to explain how impact bargaining isn’t about refusing to follow mandates, but about how changes are implemented and how they impact working conditions.

A reporter from The Oregonian, Shane D. Kavanaugh, tweeted about how Portland city workers wanted to negotiate work terms in light of new COVID-19 vaccine mandates:

It’s not just police. All of Portland’s employee unions—which represent 70% of the city’s workforce—have now demanded right to negotiate over new COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

That was met with a flurry of attacks on unions that were incorrectly assuming workers didn’t want to get vaccinated or encourage coworkers to get vaccinated, with one tweet accusing unions of being on the wrong side of the vaccine debate.

To that, Kamper tweeted:

Demanding to negotiate the impact of something isn’t the same as refusing to do it, or even being opposed to it.

He went on to write:

Can you get the vaccine on the clock without using sick time? What will be accepted as proof of vaccination, or of proof you are medically unable to take it? Will this apply to political appointees & on-site contractors, too?

These are things you discuss at impact bargaining.

Will employees who work remotely be required to be vaccinated? Who decides if/when an employee is allowed to work remotely? What additional safety precautions will be in place in worksite in addition to a vaccine mandate? Will there still be testing?

The unions presumably negotiated certain provisions at the beginning of the pandemic: leave for school closure, isolation rules for an exposure, and so on. Some or all of those need to be re-negotiated with a vaccine mandate in place.

Even when an employer offers something unmistakably good to employees, like a new floating holiday to thank them for their hard work, unions still can, will, and SHOULD demand to negotiate it, get it down in writing, formally agree to it.

At its very heart, collective bargaining isn’t about money. It’s about power. It’s about WHO DECIDES. The principle of collective bargaining is the boss is not and should not be the unilateral decision maker. That’s what a demand to negotiate means.

You can see the whole Twitter thread exchange here.

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