International Union of Painters and Allied Trades workers mark the 50th anniversary of King's March on Washington, 2013. Photo: Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons License 2.0

As more and more employers have started mandating that all workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus, it's been weird to see quite a few unions pushing back on the policies, expressing meatheaded anti-vax claims in a few cases, or more frequently insisting that any vaccine mandates have to be negotiated with the union, because all workplace rules have to be negotiated with the union. That's not the case for one international trades union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), which announced today that it welcomes vaccination mandates, and will urge its affiliates to not take them to the bargaining table.

As the American Prospect explains, the IUPAT, which represents about 140,000 workers and retirees in the US and Canada, has imposed its own vaccine mandate for its office and field employees, and will take other measures to "lead by example" in encouraging the labor movement to promote vaccinations to bring the virus under control.

"We're not looking for anything at the bargaining table, and we're not looking at our support in return for something else," said incoming IUPAT General President Jim Williams Jr. "We feel COVID is a true health and safety risk on the job site, and if the employers mandate it, we want to be supportive. There's a ton of mandates that employers already put out for health and safety."

Williams says that 65 members of the union died from COVID-19 in the last year, and that since unions are all about safety in the workplace, "We'd be crazy to think that we're promoting health and safety by not having our workforce vaccinated at this point." We like this guy!


In addition to mandating the vaccine for its own office workers and people in the field, the IUPAT says it will

"apply the same approach to the interpretation of their national collective bargaining agreements." In practice, this means that for the roughly 150 employers across the country who have agreements with the IUPAT, the international union is declaring that any employer vaccine mandate will be considered "consistent" with their contracts as currently written, and no grievances will be filed to contest such a requirement.

Beyond that, the union will urge its local affiliates (which are called "district councils" and not "locals" for reasons that are no doubt fascinating if you love organizational history, and who doesn't) to proactively put support for vaccines into their contracts with employers without demanding bargaining over vaccination requirements.

As the Prospect notes, no other unions have gone quite as far, even among those that are generally supportive of vaccinations.

Earlier this month, Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), issued a statement saying that, with the delta variant spreading, vaccination is "more essential than ever." But he stopped short of expressing support for employer mandates. "As employers establish vaccination policies, AFSCME will address the impact on workers through bargaining to ensure that the front-line heroes of this pandemic are treated fairly," Saunders said.

Similarly, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) encourages its members to get vaccinated, but has also warned that employers who impose vaccine mandates that haven't been bargained with the union "may commit an unfair labor practice," which seems like a counterproductive approach considering the risk to public health.

Last week, when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a new vaccine mandate for all health care workers, nursing home workers, and public-school employees, the local SEIU affiliate president released a statement noting, "When it comes to the vaccine mandate, there is no consensus among our membership. People strongly support the mandate and people strongly oppose the mandate. But I think we can all agree that having a say in how this new policy impacts our lives is a good thing."

Again, we get the need to protect workers' rights, but as long as employers are dealing in good faith (which yes, can be a big if), it seems to us that the IUPAT's approach is more proactive in its approach — employers, workers, and the community all have an interest in making sure as many people as possible are protected from the pandemic, so the usual adversarial framework of bargaining doesn't seem to fit the needs of the moment.

Update: A Wonkette Operative rightly points out that vaccine mandates without paid time off in case somebody has a bad reaction to the vaccine would suck, so OK yes we can see why that might actually need to be built into a contract.

In any case, this post mentions AFSCME, so that means we're contractually required by Wonkette tradition to include this video again, the end.

Somebody should update that with a line about getting everybody the fuckin' vaccine, you got that, asshole?

[American Prospect / Photo: Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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