By Jan. 1, all Community Transit employees must be vaccinated or have an approved exemption for medical reasons or religious beliefs. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

By Jan. 1, all Community Transit employees must be vaccinated or have an approved exemption for medical reasons or religious beliefs. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Union: Community Transit vaccine mandate puts jobs in ‘jeopardy’

Meanwhile, at King County Metro, a similar mandate has significantly boosted vaccination rates.

EVERETT — Union leaders for Community Transit drivers and maintenance workers are trying to ease the impacts of the recently issued vaccine requirement.

Community Transit CEO Ric Ilgenfritz instated the phased policy Sept. 28. Since then, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1576 representatives have been bargaining over the mandate.

By Jan. 1, all Community Transit employees must be vaccinated or have an approved exemption for medical or “deeply held” religious beliefs.

The union opposed a mandate that “puts our members at jeopardy of losing their jobs,” according to a post on the group’s Facebook page.

“Our position is that workers in all classifications can and should be accommodated, such as with weekly testing, as a continued option to remain actively employed,” the post read. “We are working with our attorneys to craft a proposal on job protections for members who are impacted by this mandate.”

A Community Transit spokesperson said they could not share details of the discussions while negotiating with the union.

People in transportation and transit careers have been eligible for the vaccine since March 17.

Community Transit offered additional paid leave for employees to recover from any vaccine side effects and an incentive since mid-May that would have paid every employee cash based on the percent of employees being vaccinated.

Despite those incentives, the agency has failed to meet its goals. Since mid-September, the employee vaccination rate had not budged from 65%, Ilgenfritz said. They were aiming for President Joe Biden’s target of at least 70% this summer.

Over 77% of Community Transit employees were fully vaccinated as of last week.

A spike in employees’ positive COVID-19 test results during August and September prompted Ilgenfritz to implement the mandate.

It could work if patterns here follow what happened at King County Metro after King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his government’s vaccine mandate Aug. 9. Two weeks later, 34.76% of King County Metro employees self-reported having at least the first dose of a vaccine, according to King County data.

By Monday, a week before the mandate will take effect, that number leaped to 77.57%, but was still the lowest rate of all King County departments.

ATU Local 587, which represents Metro transit employees, agreed to the mandate Sept. 22. It includes pay for employees getting the vaccine, including travel time; up to eight hours of paid leave for side effects within 48 hours of the shot; the county covering vaccination costs; and preserving rehiring eligibility for workers who lose their employment for not getting the vaccine, if they get it within two years, according to the memorandum of agreement.

King County government’s total vaccinated rate was 83.58%, but a spokesperson for the executive’s office said the percent is likely higher because employees had not yet reported their shot with the county.

After Gov. Jay Inslee announced a vaccine requirement for state employees on Aug. 9, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said she was not considering one for the city’s employees, including over 100 Everett Transit workers.

Everett was following the governor’s mandate and was implementing the federal order because the city employs over 100 people, according to a city spokesperson. But Mayor Cassie Franklin said she was not considering one specific to Everett’s employees and encouraged staff to get vaccinated.

Steve Oss, president of the union that represents those workers, ATU 883, said he would fight a mandate if one is implemented. Oss is running for mayor against Franklin.

The Snohomish Health District is hosting a vaccination clinic Saturday, Oct. 23, for Community Transit employees, contractors and family members at the agency’s administrative building at 7100 Hardeson Road in Everett.

Community Transit offered the public free rides to vaccination sites from late May through July and resumed the service in September. Riders do not need to provide any documentation. They can just tell the driver they are going to get the shot or returning from getting one.

This story has been modified to clarify the city did not have its own vaccine mandate.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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