Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation mandating that most state executive branch employees and on-site contractors and volunteers, along with public and private healthcare and long-term care workers, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18. 

Union Response

Agreements and MOUs

These are the facilities where our union has negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with employers regarding the vaccine mandate. To review MOU details, visit your portal page on our main website or reach out to a delegate or organizer.

Vaccine Mandate Town Hall on Aug. 24

Questions and Answers

Updated Sept. 7, 2021.

My employer gave me a religious exemption before the mandate and now they say they are not able to honor it. What can I do?

Employers are required to honor religious and medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. If your employer has agreed to an exemption and is now not honoring it, contact your delegate or organizer so we can file a grievance.

I cannot get the flu shot for medical reasons, and now I’m looking into a medical exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. If my request for a medical exemption is turned down, it’s possible that I won’t have enough time to get the shot and be compliant by October 18. What are my options?

As a union, we are bargaining with employers about this kind of issue. We believe that if you are not eligible for an exemption and are in the process of completing your COVID-19 vaccine doses, you should be able to continue working if you agree to routine testing and masking.

I already had COVID and I may have natural immunity. Why does this not qualify for exemption? Why can’t we test for antibodies instead of getting the vaccine?

While scientists believe that having COVID-19 gives you some natural immunity, the vaccines provide stronger, longer-lasting immunity than infection.

If my employer does not honor exemptions, what is the union prepared to do for its members?

We have issued a demand to bargain over vaccine requirements in every workplace, and are demanding that employers honor religious and medical exemptions. If you are denied an exemption for which you are qualified, or receive an exemption that the employer then refuses to honor, we will file a grievance.

Are there exemptions if I don’t work directly in patient care roles?

The vaccine mandate for state healthcare workers does not provide exemptions for those not in direct patient care roles. Most employer vaccine requirements are similar.

What is the process to qualify for a religious exemption? Do I get a pastor or notary to sign it? 

We are currently bargaining with employers on the impacts of the vaccination requirement, including the process to qualify for a religious exemption. The form should be available when bargaining is complete. Check with your delegate or organizer to learn more about the status of bargaining in your workplace.

My employer does not have a religious exemption form available yet. When will it become available?

We are currently bargaining with employers on the impacts of the vaccination requirement, including the process to qualify for a religious exemption. The form should be available when bargaining is complete. Check with your delegate or organizer to learn more about the status of bargaining in your workplace.

Our employer is offering exemptions but also requiring testing on our own time and expense. Are they allowed to do that?

As a union we believe that if testing is a requirement of employment, it should be done on paid time. We are bargaining with employers to that effect.

What is the protocol for getting time off when if we have a reaction to the vaccine? In the past, we could request to be entered as administrative leave, but now it isn’t an option. Will I be using my own leave?

In bargaining with employers on vaccine requirements, we are proposing that vaccines be given on paid time, and that paid administrative leave be provided for vaccine side effects. You should not be required to use your own leave time for anything that is a requirement of your employment.

If I take the vaccination to keep my job, will my employer be liable for any negative side effects? Will employers be required to sign an assumption of liability due to the mandate?

Our position is that employers must provide paid administrative leave for recovery from side effects. The COVID-19 vaccines have an extraordinarily low rate of complications.

Do we have an idea of how many healthcare workers will be leaving their jobs due to vaccination non-compliance under the mandate?

We know that the vast majority of healthcare workers have already been vaccinated, and we expect vaccination rates to continue to climb as all of us see the impact of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in our communities. When it comes to healthcare workers leaving the profession, we are much more concerned about the impact of the longstanding short-staffing crisis and burnout from working through COVID. Because of this, we are doing everything we can at individual workplaces and at the state level to fight for safe staffing.

Has the union done research on what religions would require exemptions, to figure impact on staffing?

Because the majority of healthcare workers are already vaccinated and many are in the process of completing their vaccination, we do not believe that religious or medical exemptions will have a significant impact on staffing. We are also bargaining with every employer to include alternatives to vaccination, such as regular testing and daily masking, instead of termination.

Has the union been in communication with the governor’s office about the mandate and its effect on staffing? 

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has been in close communication with Governor Inslee’s office for the entirety of the pandemic. Prior to the mandate being issued, our officers raised significant concerns with the vaccine mandate. We are particularly concerned about the impact of terminating healthcare workers during a healthcare worker shortage that has been exacerbated by COVID and by both employer actions and state policies. We are continuing to communicate with Governor Inslee’s office about the impacts of the mandates on our members and the healthcare system, and we will continue to bargain over vaccine mandates and requirements with every employer.

What is the union’s plan for staffing if the number of staff that leave because of the vaccine is much bigger than expected? It is easy to see on travel nursing forums/groups that many travel nurses are saying they will not come to Washington state because of the mandate and we rely on travel nurses.

We know that the vast majority of healthcare workers have already been vaccinated, and we expect vaccination rates to continue to climb as all of us see the impact of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in our communities. When it comes to healthcare workers leaving the profession, we are much more concerned about the impact of the longstanding short-staffing crisis and burnout from working through COVID. Because of this, we are doing everything we can at individual workplaces and at the state level to fight for safe staffing.

I was informed by HR that regardless of an exemption, I pose an unacceptable health and safety risk. What are my next steps?

Employers must provide alternatives to vaccination for workers who have an exemption, such as testing and masking. If your employer has taken you off the schedule or you are concerned about termination, contact your delegate or organizer to begin the grievance process.

Will there be options to keep my paycheck whole if I can’t work because I choose not to be vaccinated?

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW believes there should be alternatives to termination, such as regular testing or masking, for workers who decline to be vaccinated. In the case that termination does occur, we are proposing that the worker be classified as laid off and eligible for rehire when vaccinated.

If my employer doesn’t accept my request for an exemption, is the union going to provide assistance if I am taken off the schedule permanently?

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW believes there should be alternatives to termination, such as regular testing or masking, for workers who decline to be vaccinated. In the case that termination does occur, we are proposing that the worker be classified as laid off and eligible for rehire when vaccinated.

What is the union doing to support members who are choosing not to get vaccinated and who do not have a medical or religious exemption?

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW believes there should be alternatives to termination, such as regular testing or masking, for workers who decline to be vaccinated. In the case that termination does occur, we are proposing that the worker be classified as laid off and eligible for rehire when vaccinated.

I have seen some very ugly behavior toward those who have reasons for not being vaccinated, as this is a very passionate subject with a lot of fears. What is the union’s plan to protect unvaccinated workers from discrimination? Is it legal for the employers to segregate employees for their breaks depending on vaccination status?

We will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. As healthcare and behavioral health workers, we agree that the COVID vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to protect ourselves and our families from COVID-19. But as members of a union, we know that segregation, discrimination and other unequal forms of treatment are damaging to us as workers and to our profession. No worker should be made to wear a sticker or other marking showing whether or not they are vaccinated.

When can I get a booster shot?

Currently, the CDC is recommending that moderately to severely immunocompromised people receive an additional dose, and people should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them. While the CDC is still developing general guidelines for the booster shot, we understand that people will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine boosters about eight months after their initial vaccination. The federal government announced the U.S. plans to widely distribute Covid booster shots in the week of Sept. 20, pending clearance from FDA and CDC scientists. We will share more information as soon as guidelines are finalized and booster shots are available. In addition, if you received your initial COVID-19 vaccination through work, your employer may contact you to schedule your booster dose

Submit Your Questions

If you have a question about the vaccine mandate that was not answered previously, you can submit it below.

Vaccine Facts From an Epidemiologist

  1. The virus is so prevalent in our communities, and so contagious, that nearly all unvaccinated Americans are likely to become infected sooner or later.
  2. Infection comes with a chance of severe disease (often with long-term consequences, a chance of hospitalization, and a chance of death). Infection also comes with transmission risks to vulnerable neighbors and loved ones, and required isolation.
  3. The vaccines reduce the chances of severe disease or death by 25-fold or more. They’re really good at preventing the worst outcomes.
  4. Over half of Americans have now received the vaccines, so we have good understanding of their effects. Mild side effects are common (that’s your immune system doing its work). Severe side effects (comparable to hospitalization) are extremely rare, a small fraction of a percent. Vaccination is by far the safer choice.
  5. All immunity fades with time, whether it comes from jabs or germs. Better to get a booster shot than a booster infection.