contagious workets (Huza Studio/Shutterstock.com)

Some fed unions hesitant on WH vaccine policy

With Delta variant COVID raging across the country, the Biden administration July 29 announced federal agencies must require vaccination for on-site employees and contractors—or as alternatives, mandatory masking, repeated testing and other hurdles. 

The move came just after the CDC reinstated stronger masking recommendations—advising fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in regions of “substantial or high” transmission—and urgently advising the unvaccinated to get the shots. 

Now comes the follow-on news: Reaction to the new policy from feds and their advocates—and that’s been mixed. Some federal employee unions, notably the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE), immediately embraced the White House announcement. But others—while voicing support for the goals of the policy—are pushing back, insisting management must negotiate vaccination mandates with unions. 

The toughest fed feedback against the White House plan came in a statement from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA). Despite the White House permitting (albeit not easy) substitute options, the group criticized the blueprint as, in essence, “forcing people to undertake a medical procedure.” 

"As an association representing those men and women charged with protecting the Constitutional rights of all Americans, including the right to privacy and choice,” Larry Cosme, FLEOA’s president, began, “we are concerned by any move that would mandate the COVID-19 vaccine among federal employees.” 

"FLEOA fully supports individuals who voluntarily choose to be vaccinated, agree that it is safe and the most effective means of combatting the pandemic, and encourage our members to be vaccinated,” Cosme continued. "However, forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it.” 

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU)—which has consistently spotlighted the dangers of the COVID pandemic to its hundreds of thousands of frontline workers—nonetheless like FLEOA shot back, advising government leaders that “it is not the role of the federal government” to issue such an order, and that management must bargain such an all-encompassing move with employees. 

“Issues related to vaccinations and testing for COVID-19 in the workplace must be negotiated with the APWU,” the organization stated. “At this time the APWU opposes the mandating of COVID-19 vaccinations in relation to U.S. postal workers.”

Some other unions offered a more muted, if still skeptical, response. The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), representing more than 150,000 employees across multiple agencies, reacted that they did not view the announcement, with its promised alternatives and implementation still TBD, as a “mandate.” 

“[We] have a lot of questions about how this policy will be implemented and how employee rights and privacy will be protected,” NTEU wrote in an emailed response. “Our understanding is that the president’s proposal is not a vaccine mandate.” 

NTEU said it will “monitor closely” the situation. The organization said it might support the policy—if it’s effected after negotiations and with adequate safeguards, especially regarding privacy. 

“This approach appears to establish a process for employees to voluntarily disclose their vaccination status,” NTEU said. “For employees who wish to keep that information confidential or choose to remain unvaccinated, a testing protocol will be established.” 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 700,000-plus feds, responded in a similarly guarded vein. 

“We expect that the particulars of any changes to working conditions, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines and associated protocols, be properly negotiated with our bargaining units prior to implementation,” the union said in a statement

“Based on today’s announcement,” AFGE continued, “it is our understanding that under President Biden’s proposal the vast majority of federal employees would not have to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, but that those who choose not to receive the vaccine may face certain restrictions.” 

Reader comments

Fri, Aug 6, 2021

The end of the week and COVID cases going through the roof. Those unions and people who object or want to split hairs are crazy. That's obvious now. The new COVID is not like the old COVID. It is like a tidal wave.

Wed, Aug 4, 2021 jimicocobop

NTEU said "“[We] have a lot of questions about how this policy will be implemented and how employee rights and privacy will be protected,” This response is pathetic. You have to fight everything or you lose credibility, right? Stop being stupid.

Wed, Aug 4, 2021 John Columbus, Ohio

Wrong! It works exactly like other vaccines. It both minimizes the chance you will contract the infection and minimizes the degree of illness you will experience if you do contract it. A flu shot, polio shot measles shot and Covid shot are all vaccinations that function similarly with respect to disease. The reason you do not see much polio or measles or mumps is because we have MANDATED them for schools as children. There are not sufficient unvaccinated people left to spread the virus so it seems to go away. Covid would also go away if all Americans had the vaccines and then we work on the rest of the world, just like we do with other deseases and vaccines. Please stop getting your medical information on this stuff from Facebook and know-it-all friends that can be hazardous to your health and even kill you. This is not Big Government coming to get you...it is government trying to save your lives and the rest of America.

Tue, Aug 3, 2021

I would dare say that it is discrimination to force the unvaccinated to mandatory testing and exclude those that are vaccinated. The vaccinated and unvaccinated alike can contract and spread this virus to others. And yes, those that have been vaccinated do have a better survival rate. I use the term vaccination loosely, because this is more like a flu shot. It does not end the virus the way a real vaccine is supposed to work.

Tue, Aug 3, 2021 Sergio CA

Ok people, get your heads out of your rear. This is not a medical procedure, it's a vaccination, just like the flu or any other vaccination we get thru life. We are not losing our jobs and we are not losing benefits. It is still our choice but to keep the rest of us safe from getting sick, so you have to wear a mask and get tested. Big deal, come on, we have been doing this for how long now. Stop bickering about the small stuff. Most of are still teleworking.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above.

2021 Digital Almanac

Stay Connected

Latest Forum Posts

Ask the Expert

Have a question regarding your federal employee benefits or retirement?

Submit a question