Hawaii unions balk at Gov. Ige’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for state, county workers

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — State and county workers will need to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by Monday, Aug. 16, or get tested weekly.

The governor announced on Thursday, August 5, that he will issue an emergency proclamation to enforce the mandate. Public unions said, not so fast.

State and county leaders made an announcement that said the surge in cases is already straining hospitals and more needs to be done to stop the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.

“Based on the current conditions, I must take action to protect public health and avert unmanageable strains on our healthcare,” said Gov. David Ige.

They said they understand that there are people who are scared of taking the vaccine and do not trust the science, but getting more people vaccinated is the only way to return to normalcy.

“Enough is enough already. Let’s get back to the things we love most by taking the vaccine, limiting gatherings, and wearing masks. The time is now,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth.

They say those who choose not to get vaccinated will have to get tested for COVID once per week. There will be free testing sites, but those who choose not to go to a free testing site will have to pay for the test on their own. Exemptions will be provided but it is still not clear how those will be determined. Those who do not comply could lose their job, however.

“The fact that they don’t have details worked out, details are forthcoming, they don’t have a plan, this is typical of this administration. They grandstand with an announcement but they don’t have meat on the bones,” said Randy Perreira, HGEA executive director.

HGEA, and other public workers unions such as UPW and those representing teachers, police officers, UH professors and firefighters said they encourage their members to get vaccinated. They added the unions should have been consulted, however

“Nothing has been sent over to the unions, no one has reached out to us to discuss any of this with us,” said Liz Ho, UPW administrator.

Teamsters Hawaii, which represents The Bus and Handi-Van workers, said it will file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“We agree that people should be vaccinated, but we also believe that people should have a choice as to whether they want to be vaccinated or not,” said Wayne Kaululaau, Teamsters Hawaii president.

The governor and the mayors said they have legal standing because this is an emergency proclamation.

Six public unions issued a joint statement on Ige’s vaccine policy. In part, it stated:

The emergency proclamation will impact our members’ working conditions and the employer must bargain those impacts with the appropriate collective bargaining units. Details on how tests will be administered, how results will be kept confidential, and how the state will fund this mandate will need to be negotiated with the state and we look forward to having those discussions right away. 

The statement was released by the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the United Public Workers.

Hawaii reported 655 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest case count in a single day since the pandemic began. There are 428 coronavirus cases on Oahu, 131 on the Big Island, 69 in Maui County, seven in Kauai County and 20 residents diagnosed out of state.

Despite the surge on Oahu, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he has no plans to move back tiers. Ige also said he is not looking at implementing restrictions across the board because it penalizes businesses that have done a good job in implementing mitigation strategies. State and health officials continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and to wear their masks indoors.

“I think it’s clear that the vast majority of people coming down with COVID-19 right now are unvaccinated. The vast majority of people in the hospital are unvaccinated,” state health director Dr. Elizabeth Char said during Thursday’s news conference.

According to Dr. Char, 95% of patients who are hospitalized are unvaccinated.

“I think what we have been seeing nationwide is that even if you’re fully vaccinated, if you’re in proximity to somebody who is infected and you’re spending time there, and you’re not wearing a mask and you’re just in proximity, it’s kind of like you’re being bombarded with COVID virus,” she said.

The vaccination mandate for state and county workers follows the Department of Education’s announcement on Wednesday that required all public high school student-athletes — and anyone involved with sports — to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

No vaccination, no participation. Students and coaches will have to show proof they have gotten the shot in order to play sports in 2021. The University of Hawaii (UH), Hawaii Pacific University and Chaminade University made their own announcements soon after.

Ige said he is working UH and the City to get fans back in the stands, but there are no clear protocols yet.

On Thursday, the Hawaii House of Representatives also adopted a requirement for all House members and staff to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. Those who choose not to be vaccinated must undergo weekly testing. 

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