Oregon Gov. Brown: State workers must be vaccinated
Gov. Kate Brown has ordered most state workers, with limited exceptions under law, to obtain vaccinations against the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Brown also plans to order people to wear masks in all indoor settings, given the spread of the Delta variant that is driving up the number of infections and straining hospital capacity. She had already ordered masks to be worn by employees and visitors alike in state buildings back on July 30.
She plans an availability Wednesday, Aug. 11, to discuss the statewide mask mandate further.
"Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are the surest way to prevent Oregonians from ending up in intensive care units," Brown said in a statement Tuesday, Aug. 10. "I am taking action to help ensure State of Oregon workplaces are safe for employees and customers alike, and I am strongly encouraging all public and private employers to follow suit by requiring vaccination for their employees. The only way we can stop the spread of COVID-19 for good is through vaccination."
The requirement extends to almost all state workers, except those working for the Legislature and the state court system. It does not apply to workers in city and county governments and special districts.
The requirement for state workers takes effect Oct. 18, or six weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives full approval to vaccines, three of which already have received emergency use authorization. The later date will apply.
Brown last week ordered health care workers to get vaccinated by Sept. 30 or face weekly tests. She did so after four large health care employers announced such requirements, despite a state ban that applies selectively. Tests are not an option for state workers, however, under her latest order.
Union wants say
A statement on Aug. 4 from Local 503 of Service Employees International Union, which represents the largest group of state workers, said this after Brown announced her order for health care workers:
"This policy willÂ notÂ impact state workers (not even workers at the Oregon State Hospital), but we do expect a similar policy covering state workers will be handed down in the days to come."
On Tuesday, a joint statement from Local 503 President Mike Powers and Executive Director Melissa Unger said the union supports vaccinations, but wants a say about how Brown's order will be implemented:
"The state cannot simply declare a vaccine mandate and walk away," they said. "They must listen to essential workers and address our concerns with how this policy is implemented.Â
"Today we have issued a demand to bargain over the impacts of the vaccine mandate. At the negotiating table we will ensure that working people have a voice in this process, and that vaccines are truly accessible."
Current state law, which dates back to 1989, bars a vaccination requirement for health care providers and workers, plus police, firefighters, corrections officers and parole and probation officers. It does not bar such requirements by other employers.
Local 503 also urged protective measures for state workers, such as personal protective equipment and teleworking options, as state offices plan to reopen to the public around Labor Day. (Some offices have reopened, but employees and visitors are subject to mask requirements Brown ordered July 30.)
Mask mandate redux
Brown acknowledged that there is a sense of public weariness with the coronavirus pandemic, which is now 18 months and running.
"After a year and a half of this pandemic, I know Oregonians are tired of health and safety restrictions. This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now," she said in her statement.
"It will help to protect all of us, including people who are immunocompromised, and our children under 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. Masks are a simple and effective tool that will keep our schools, businesses and communities open."
Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby criticized both of Brown's actions.
"The governor has no business mandating COVID-19 vaccines for anybody," Drazan said in a statement. "Running over free will is not leadership. We would be the only state in the nation forcing these vaccines on people like this.
"I trust Oregonians even if the governor doesn't. She shouldn't be trying to control every aspect of their lives with mask and vaccine mandates."
But House Speaker Tina Kotek differed with Drazan.
"We all hoped the days of regular mask-wearing were a thing of the past for vaccinated Oregonians," the Democrat from Portland said. "Unfortunately, the Delta variant has changed everything."
Brown's order for workers to get vaccinated extends to state agencies and offices led by other elected officials: Secretary of state, State Treasury, Department of Justice (attorney general) and Bureau of Labor and Industries. She said she did so in consultation with those officials.
It excludes the legislative and judicial branches, although Brown said she encouraged officials there to impose similar requirements.
State Treasurer Tobias Read said he agreed with the order.
"Even with more than 2.3 million Oregonians already vaccinated, this is not a step that should be taken lightly," he said in a statement. "But as public servants, it's our job to protect the public. Requiring our workforce to be vaccinated protects those we serve from unnecessary exposure and risk. And it improves our ability to perform the work that Oregonians expect from us."Â
The Capitol in Salem, which is overseen by the Legislature, has been open to the public since July 12 but has encouraged wearing of masks. It is undergoing seismic reinforcement of its House and Senate office wings, and lawmakers adjourned their 2021 regular session on June 26. They are planning a special session on redistricting around Sept. 20.
The Supreme Court Building has been closed for renovation, and the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have moved into temporary quarters elsewhere in Salem. The courts are still doing most of their business online.
NOTE: Adds reactions from Local 503 of Service Employees International Union, which represents the largest share of Oregon's state government workforce, and from State Treasurer Tobias Read.
Their full responses are below.
Also added in text of story: Reactions from House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
Full text of response to Gov. Kate Brown's order from Local 503 of Service Employees International Union, which represents the largest share of Oregon's state government workforce:
"SEIU 503's goal is universal vaccination so that everyone is protected from the COVID-19 virus and we can end this global pandemic.Â
"SEIU 503 members have been leading the way in vaccine distribution efforts in our communities. Our efforts are built on equitable outreach to essential workers, communities of color, immigrants, young people and rural Oregonians. We believe success will come from providing real access, which includes the support, time off, education and protection that working families need to access the vaccine. Together, union members have helped thousands of care providers and public services workers get the vaccine, and we are committed to stopping this deadly surge of the Delta variant.
"It is our analysis that once FDA approval is final, employers have the legal right to mandate vaccines. However, the state cannot simply declare a vaccine mandate and walk away. They must listen to essential workers and address our concerns with how this policy is implemented.Â
Today we have issued a demand to bargain over the impacts of the vaccine mandate. At the negotiating table we will ensure that working people have a voice in this process, and that vaccines are truly accessible. We will fight for paid time off to take the vaccine and recover, exemptions for people with a documented reason for not taking the vaccine, and a seat at the table to ensure that all working people on the job are respected, protected, and paid fairly as we continue to fight COVID-19.Â
"The state must also avoid sending mixed messages. If the current situation is so dangerous that a vaccine mandate is needed, then the State must immediately take precautions to ensure the planned reopening of state offices in September includes flexibility to telework, PPE and other safety measures to protect workers and the public."
Full statement from State Treasurer Tobias Read:
"I believe every person capable of getting the COVID vaccine should do so as quickly as possible. The vaccine is the safest, most effective way to stop this disease, get our kids back to school safely, help our small businesses keep their doors open and protect our immune-compromised neighbors.
"As neighbors, as a community, as family and as state employees, now is the time to step up for one another. We have an urgent need to reduce the spread of COVID. Even with more than 2.3 million Oregonians already vaccinated, this is not a step that should be taken lightly. But as public servants, it's our job to protect the public. Requiring our workforce to be vaccinated protects those we serve from unnecessary exposure and risk. And it improves our ability to perform the work that Oregonians expect from us.Â
"This pandemic has tested us in a number of ways. It's dangerous for us to stop seeing each other as fellow Oregonians with shared dreams and interests. Being hesitant and cautious about any required health procedure is understandable.Â And no one should be shamed for wanting to make the best decision for their loved ones. But there are ways for Oregonians to get their questions answered by qualified health care professionals who can confirm that the vaccine is safe, effective, and the best way to reduce the risk of serious disease. If you have questions about COVID vaccines, talk to your doctor or to a health care provider you trust. Let's all work together to end this pandemic."
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