Gov. Jay Inslee, left, gets the first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Jan. 22, 2021, from Elizabeth Smalley, right, a medical assistant at a Sea Mar Community Health Center in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Gov. Jay Inslee, left, gets the first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Jan. 22, 2021, from Elizabeth Smalley, right, a medical assistant at a Sea Mar Community Health Center in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Governor wants to make vaccine mandate permanent for new hires

Jay Inslee also wants to require current and future state employees keep up with their shots, if they want to keep their jobs.

OLYMPIA — A year ago, amid a surge in coronavirus infections, Gov. Jay Inslee mandated thousands of state workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 — or they could lose their jobs.

Now, he wants to make proof of vaccination a permanent condition of employment.

On Friday, he directed state agencies to require all new employees to be fully up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination prior to starting work, including any recommended boosters.

And if you’ve got a job now, you will soon need to be fully vaxxed and boosted to keep it.

“I recognize the difficulties of implementing this Directive to maintain the health and reduce the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on our state workforce,” Inslee wrote.

Inslee’s action affects roughly 60,000 workers of the 24 state agencies under Inslee’s control — such as the departments of Corrections, Transportation, Health, and Social and Health Services. These are the executive and small cabinet agencies.

The order does not cover workers in public schools and colleges, or statewide agencies led by another elected official. Inslee hopes his idea will spread to those places .

“I call upon our higher education institutions, boards and commissions, and other separately elected officials to consider similar requirements within their agencies and jurisdictions,” he wrote in the directive.

The vaccination mandate imposed by Inslee in August 2021 is still in place. Not everyone complied. Through January, 2,135 people had retired, resigned or been terminated due to the mandate.

What Inslee announced Friday aims to make it permanent policy for current and future employees under the umbrella of his administration. And as with the original mandate, officials must consider reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs.

It will take time to put the changes in place.

New rules are needed to make the desired vaccination mandate for new hires a permanent condition of employment. As envisioned, new employees would be required to have the most up-to-date vaccination, including any additional doses or boosters, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rule-making process will likely be done by fall, according to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, current exempt and non-represented employees will need to show they are vaccinated and boosted consistent with CDC recommendations by July 1, 2023.

And for workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the administration will pursue language in the 2023-25 contract to require employees be up-to-date on their shots, including boosters.

This will be a topic for the negotiations that began earlier this year with an array of unions representing workers in the affected state agencies. There is no set timetable for reaching contract agreements.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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