Steelworkers Object to Mandatory Vaccination Policy

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By Michael J. Bologna

The United Steelworkers want a federal judge to bar a Minnesota-based health system from acting on a threat to fire workers who decline to get flu shots until the labor dispute can be arbitrated, a union attorney told Bloomberg Law Oct. 25 ( United Steelworkers Union v. Essentia Health , D. Minn., No. 17-cv-4753, 10/20/17 ).

Steelworkers Locals 9460 and 9349 sued in federal court in Minneapolis Oct. 20 seeking an injunction barring Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health from implementing an influenza vaccination policy that could result in the termination of union members beginning Nov. 20, union attorney Justin Cummins said.

The union represents approximately 2,000 Essentia employees at 11 locations in the Duluth area. It wants the court to delay further implementation of the policy until a grievance can be arbitrated, Cummins said. The grievance, filed Sept. 29, objects to Essentia’s implementation of the mandatory vaccination policy, asserting the policy is beyond the scope of the management rights outlined in the current collective bargaining agreement.

Cummins, a partner with Cummins & Cummins LLP in Minneapolis, questioned the value of the policy because most of the affected workers do not have one-on-one interactions with patients. He said most of the union-represented workers serve in clerical, maintenance, and facility services roles.

Essentia spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said the company does not comment on matters involving pending litigation. She noted, however, that health systems across the country have implemented vaccination policies very similar to the program launched by Essentia.

Vaccination Policy

The employer announced a policy in September requiring all personnel to be vaccinated against influenza by Nov. 10, according to the complaint. Employees failing to comply were told they would be terminated on Nov. 20. The program allows an exemption for a small group of employees with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs.

Cummins said the court has established an expedited briefing and settlement schedule in the case. He noted a settlement conference has been scheduled for Nov. 7. If no settlement is reached, the parties will proceed to a hearing on Nov. 8, followed by possible action by the court.

The union is hoping for a sensible resolution that will avoid terminations while the dispute is arbitrated, Cummins said.

“Hopefully there will be a meaningful opportunity during the settlement conference for the parties to look long and hard at the situation and come to some reasonable resolution,” he said. “But up to this point there has been no indication to that regard.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Bologna in Chicago at mbologna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com

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