SEIU to Newsom: Stuff your vaccine mandate

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The civil war brewing between Democratic executives and the unions that elect them spread to California yesterday — and at the worst moment for Gavin Newsom. Facing a recall election prompted by his incompetent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom rushed to match Joe Biden’s actions by imposing a vaccine-or-mask-and-test mandate on the state’s workforce. The union representing the largest number of those workers publicly blasted Newsom for his unilateral abrogation of the collective bargaining agreement and declared that they would refuse to cooperate:

The head of the largest union in California state government signaled on Wednesday that he intends to fight Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate that all state employees either provide proof of vaccination or else wear masks and submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

“Local 1000 Listens to You! Cease & Desist against GAVIN! Finally a REAL LABOR UNION fighting for ALL of its represented employees!” SEIU Local 1000 President Richard Louis Brown wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning. …

The letter from SEIU Local 1000 accused Newsom of dodging state legal obligations before implementing the new policy.

“This is a change in the terms and working conditions of our represented employees and requires meeting and conferring with the union prior to implementing the change,” the letter reads.

The letter demands that CalHR cease and desist from enforcing the requirement until the state meets with the union.

Don’t let the word “Local” fool you. Brown controls 100,000 of the state’s 246,000 government workers, according to the Sacramento Bee. It’s also not the first time that Brown has gone toe-to-toe with Newsom or the state legislature since ousting “longtime leader” Yvonne Walker last month. He wants to reopen the pay cuts enacted last year as temporary measures in the state’s pandemic response.

Newsom argued this week that the CBA allows him the legal authority to change working conditions and requirements in crisis situations. SEIU might end up testing that in court, but even if Newsom wins that argument, this raises another problem. He needs union activists to help him defeat the recall, especially if the state is about to re-impose restrictions on commerce all over again before the votes start getting cast. The SEIU is one of the Democrats’ biggest ground forces in elections, so getting crosswise with Brown and other union leaders would be bad news for any Democratic officeholder, but especially for Newsom and super-especially right now.

It’s not great news for unions, either. The SEIU so far is the only public-employee union objecting to Newsom’s order, the Bee reports, even if they still have questions about its implementation and reach:

Several California public sector unions are voicing support for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order requiring state workers to show of vaccination against COVID-19 or accept regular testing for the virus. …

The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents peace officers across the state, responded to the order by sending a message to members reiterating the state requirements and pledging to follow up on outstanding questions.

“CSLEA is in the process of confirming that testing will be done at no cost to the employee and on State time and how employees will be compensated for self-quarantine if mandated to do so,” the union said in a statement.

The CSLEA also responded to members who asked whether the order violates the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA.

It’s rather curious how easily these unions allowed Newsom to rewrite member access to their livelihoods without even a negotiation first to settle these issues. Brown’s Tweet yesterday about being “a REAL LABOR UNION” seems on point here:

This isn’t just Newsom’s headache either. Bloomberg Law reported yesterday afternoon that federal unions and the highly influential American Federation of Teachers balked at Biden’s order, even while AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka complied:

After working together for more than a year to promote worker safety during the pandemic, organized labor leaders increasingly are divided over vaccine mandates aimed at stopping a new and potentially more deadly coronavirus strain from ravaging the U.S. workforce.

The rift was evident as the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, said Tuesday it fully supports mandatory vaccines to safeguard the economic recovery—openly contradicting one of its largest members, the American Federation of Teachers, which a day earlier had said it would oppose any plan that doesn’t leave the choice to workers and unions.

Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo put himself in the same position as Newsom, also at the worst possible political moment as he fights for survival in a series of scandals. Cuomo’s order runs afoul of SEIU there as well, although that chapter isn’t quite as aggressive in its pushback:

Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, which represents 175,000 custodians, airport workers, and other building support staff on the East Coast, has also stressed the need for bargaining over vaccines, though it’s adopted a less aggressive tone than some unions in health care. The SEIU local is focused on preventing arbitrary deadlines and other requirements that could result in workers getting fired.

“We totally understand that employers have the right to require a vaccine, but the contours of that need to be negotiated,” 32BJ spokeswoman Carolina Gonzalez said in an interview. “You don’t want somebody to lose their job unfairly because they didn’t meet a deadline.”

And another important federal union politely told Joe Biden to pound sand yesterday. The main postal workers’ union insisted that Biden needs to negotiate any such mandates and opposes any enforcement of his order:

Maintaining the health and safety of our members is of paramount importance. While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to voluntarily get vaccinated, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent.

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

One has to wonder how long the CDC will back up its latest position on masking before the White House tells them to back down. The last thing they need is a two-layer civil war between Democrats and unions as well as between the unions themselves over a vaccine-and-mask mandate that is highly questionable in the first place. The conflicts this has opened up will threaten Democrats’ fundraising and campaigning ability in a midterm cycle where they’re already at high risk of losing ground, and where the GOP continues to make inroads with working-class voters. The easiest way out of this would be to have the CDC reverse its reversal on masks, which would give Democratic executives enough cover to rescind these orders.

At least so far today, no such luck. If anything, the CDC is doubling down. Remind me again how this is any different than what an unvaccinated person has to do, and what incentives this sets for the hesitant to get vaccinated now.