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Why we support vaccines and oppose bad management

August 15, 2021

Tomorrow, August 16, a vaccine mandate goes into effect for many state and county workers. Over the past week, many of you have called or emailed to express your views about the mandate. In a union as large and diverse as HGEA, it should come as no surprise that opinions vary widely. We appreciate every voice, regardless of where you stand, because our strong convictions as individuals and as a union are what make us powerful.

We want to reiterate that we strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations to help end this pandemic. We believe this because we trust the science that is proving the effectiveness of the vaccine, and most importantly we don’t want to see any more of our friends and neighbors getting sick or dying from COVID. As we have been doing since vaccines became available, HGEA will continue to encourage vaccination, support the dissemination of accurate information, and fight to make sure vaccines are available and accessible to all. To all of you who value the health of our islands and want to defeat COVID, we hear you loud and clear.

That said, we acknowledge that some people have medical, religious, or other personal reasons for not getting vaccinated. For these members, the vaccine mandate unilaterally imposed by the governor and mayors, in particular Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, leaves substantial, valid, unanswered questions about testing requirements, testing availability and cost, remote working, discipline, termination, and other issues that could have and should have been discussed before announcements were made. This has caused unnecessary confusion and could result in real hardship for public employees and the essential public services they provide. HGEA will never accept dictatorial behavior by employers over employees. Today the issue is a COVID vaccine mandate, but tomorrow it could be something else.

All six of Hawaii’s public sector unions are standing together in solidarity on this issue. We made our position clear in a column that appeared in today's Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Here is an excerpt:

Weeks ago, knowing that COVID-19’s delta variant posed a dangerous new threat, we reached out to the governor and asked him to have a dialogue about vaccines. We were met with silence … COVID-19 is a community-wide crisis. We need strong leadership and clear communication. Instead, confusing messages, shifting policies, and half-baked unilateral decisions are making this bad situation worse. Every member of the public knows this.

There is a better way. Employers in the private sector like The Queen’s Medical Center and in other states like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy are working with unions and employees to design and implement mandatory vaccine policies. What we are asking for is simple: Sit with the employee unions to negotiate a collaborative agreement for this policy. This means working out the complex details with the stakeholders before making more confusing announcements.

This is a developing situation. We suspect that the future will be filled with more confusion in your workplaces, grievances, lawsuits, critical staff shortages, and other problems that could have all been avoided. In the coming days and weeks, HGEA will remain vigilant and active. We will continue to work with the other unions to demand meetings and answers from the governor and mayors. We will keep you up to date as things develop. And we will continue to fight for the health, safety and rights of all of you, your families, and your communities.

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