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A tiny union sets a standard for protecting workers’ rights while beating back COVID

The first priority of organized labor, if they care about the health of their members, should be to find union-friendly ways to make vaccine mandates work.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

We have struggled, in our own minds, to square the circle of our strong support for union rights with our nation’s need to take bold measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

We would prefer that public and private employers negotiate with organized labor the rules of vaccine mandates. But if push comes to shove, what matters most is getting those life-saving vaccines into workers’ arms.

Now a small group of state workers and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have demonstrated how to square that circle in a sensible way. They’ve reached an agreement that addresses the practical concerns of union members when it comes to mandated vaccines, such as the need for paid time off should a worker have to be quarantined, without giving an inch to false political narratives about the dangers of the vaccines or violations of personal freedoms.

We urge every employer and union to take note and follow suit.

About 260 supervisory workers in state-run residential facilities, represented by the Laborers International Union of North America-Illinois State Employees Association, Local 2002, have agreed to a deal in which they will get extra “COVID time” if quarantined, as well as an additional personal day. And if the vaccine is not available during an employee’s regularly scheduled shift, he or she is to receive regular pay for the time taken to receive the vaccine.

That’s the carrot. Now here’s the stick:

The workers must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 18 unless they obtain a medical or religious exemption — honest exemptions, we would hope. If they are not vaccinated by then, they will face disciplinary measures and could be fired.

We see no better approach. The first priority of organized labor, if they care about the health of their members and ending the pandemic, should be to find union-friendly ways to make vaccine mandates work.

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