MA’s essential workers will get COVID vaccine priority. Are labor unions prepared to endorse the shot for members?

BOSTON — Unions provide a voice for dues paying members. And when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine the state’s largest unions have a unified message.

Soon after it was announced that a COVID-19 vaccine was close to getting emergency approval in the U.S., 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel began reaching out to labor groups to see what guidance they were giving members.

At the time, most said they were still deliberating what, if any, recommendations to offer their members as they felt more guidance and information about the vaccine and its safety was needed. But following today’s announcement by Governor Charlie Baker their stance on the vaccine is becoming clearer.

“We are encouraging our members to take the vaccine. But we are encouraging facilities to make it voluntary. Many of our members have real health issues and reasons why they can’t take a vaccine,” said Katie Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “Nurses and health care workers have been on the front lines since March, really being right there up close and personal in the pandemic. So they should be the ones to make the decision on whether they take this vaccine or not. That being said, we usually have over 90% acceptance of our membership taking the flu vaccine. And so we hope to see exactly the same numbers this time around.”

Unions representing fire fighters, police officers, teachers and state, county and municipal employees also tell 25 Investigates they will encourage their members to get the coronavirus vaccine. These first responders will be among the very first to have access to the shot.

Police, fire fighters and emergency services workers are third on the priority list announced by Baker.

When we spoke to the president of the state’s fire fighters’ union, Rich MacKinnon, last week he told us he was still not prepared to offer vaccine guidance to his membership. But when reached today, following the Governor’s announcement, his stance had changed.

“We’ve done some research. We’re going to do some question and answer sessions with people in the medical field,” said MacKinnon. “This is our opportunity to get vaccinated, and we’re going to stress that we should. We should follow through on that on that opportunity.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association tell 25 Investigates they too will encourage workers to consider getting the vaccine. Under the announced vaccination plan, educators will be inoculated in phase two, or early next year.

We also contacted the Massachusetts Police Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Ambulance Association and AFSCME Council 93, the union that represents state, county and municipal employees. We asked all the unions if the coronavirus vaccine “should be mandated for their members by state or federal authorities?” All said that it shouldn’t. The president of the ambulance association explained: “Mandating these folks to be vaccinated against their wishes could, and most likely would, have a significant negative impact as people would choose to leave the industry.”

Not all the unions, however, are prepared to offer vaccine guidance to their membership yet. SEIU 1199, the union that represents healthcare workers like certified nursing assistants, says that they are still conducting an internal review of each vaccine’s safety and effectiveness before they recommend it.

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