Rutgers, unions spar over mandatory vaccines for health care workers - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Rutgers, unions spar over mandatory vaccines for health care workers

Taken from Politico


June 28, 2021

Rutgers Health will require its health care workers to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 moving forward, the school announced Monday, triggering a potential showdown with organized labor groups that have opposed mandatory inoculations.

The academic health system is giving its patient-facing staff, a group that includes everyone from physicians and nurses to laboratory technicians and administrators, until Aug. 1 to get vaccinated. Rutgers’ workforce provides care at two of the state’s largest hospitals: RWJBarnabas Health’s Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and the state-owned University Hospital in Newark.

With doses readily available and nearly 5 million New Jerseyans now fully vaccinated against the virus, Rutgers is pushing to get its remaining health care workers inoculated as a rising number of Delta variant infections poses a threat to the region’s recovery, said Brian Strom, chancellor at the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for Rutgers Health Affairs.

“Delta’s dramatically more contagious. I don’t know that people understand that,” Strom said in an interview Monday afternoon, adding that “even more casual exposures” will cause infection. “As one of my colleagues put it, ‘If you’re not vaccinated, Delta will find you.’”

Details: Under the new vaccine policy, covered individuals will be required to provide proof of Covid-19 immunization, receive their immunization through Rutgers, or furnish a medical or religious exemption request.

“It’s our obligation to our patients to protect our patients,” Strom said.

Why it matters: Unions representing health care workers in New Jersey have bristled at policies requiring employees to receive their immunization. That includes groups like the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which counts some of Rutgers’ workforce among the 14,000 nurses and health professionals it represents statewide.

“No one understands better than our members the devastation of COVID,” HPAE President Debbie White said in a statement. “HPAE believes the Covid vaccine does provide the best protection against the virus but we also understand that there may be some for whom the vaccine is prohibitive. We also believe that the employer has a responsibility to bargain over the effects of a mandatory vaccine roll out.”

Strom said there isn’t time for that.

“The existence of a [vaccine] requirement is not negotiable. The impact of any discipline is [negotiable], and our team is in the process of talking to their teams about that,” Strom said. “But in the meantime, the pandemic continues. We can’t wait six months.”

Key context: Vaccine hesitancy has been a significant problem within the health care community, particularly within long-term care. Though a majority of the Rutgers Health employees have been vaccinated, a meaningful number of its health workforce hasn’t provided information as to their vaccination status, Strom said.

Read more here.