Sent on behalf of President Spence:
PEF’s primary mission is improving the members’ terms and conditions of employment, including protecting members’ health and safety. In this case we must balance conflicting interests of (1) protecting members’ health and safety and (2) protecting individuals’ desires to make their own choices and decisions. PEF’s members are deeply divided on these issues, and we strive to balance these interests.
COVID-19’s impact continues to evolve as infection rates and governmental responses evolve. We continue to seek protections and benefits for members to minimize that impact, and our goals and approaches will continue to evolve as well. Below are our current positions on these issues.
Telecommuting should be implemented to the broadest extent possible given the continuing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have members who are unvaccinated for medical reasons and others who are vaccinated but immuno-compromised, and still others who may have immuno-compromised family members or unvaccinated children living in the family home. Unfortunately, even vaccinated employees can bring the virus home to vulnerable family members. As was demonstrated during the prior Telecommuting Agreements, members effectively and professionally provided their vital services to the public. Our State should lead the way with more vigorous telecommuting programs.
Mandate to “Test or Vaccinate”
Consistent with PEF’s mission and scientific evidence, PEF encourages members to be vaccinated if they can safely do so. For members who are unable, or who choose not to be vaccinated, PEF supports regular testing to ensure the early detection, quarantine and treatment of infected members and to ensure fellow members are protected from infection. We are negotiating regarding the impact of this program on members. PEF supports regular testing and supports mandatory masking and social distancing for those who cannot or choose not to provide proof of vaccination.
Masking, social distancing and telecommuting are important and effective measures for protecting members, patients and the public. PEF supports masking, social distancing and telecommuting requirements that are consistent with the local, state and national guidance.
PEF encourages vaccination and the Courts have upheld the State’s right to mandate vaccination, but we have not agreed to vaccine mandates for any members. Nonetheless, there are State and federal mandates for certain members, and vaccine mandates have been upheld by both State and federal courts for more than a century. Accordingly, we are seeking to negotiate the impact of the State’s vaccine mandate. We seek incentives for employees who get vaccinated, reasonable accommodation for those who cannot be vaccinated, and contractual protections and due process for those who do not get vaccinated.
We should be finding ways to educate and incentivize members to get vaccinated rather than threatening to terminate members, including but not limited to essential workers. Significantly, however, essential workers were required to come to work every day during the height of the pandemic when there was no vaccine. They risked their own lives and put their families’ health at risk in order to treat the sick and care for New York’s most vulnerable citizens.
We will continue to advocate for protection of PEF’s members to the greatest extent possible within the confines of what the laws will allow. These are difficult times and we take these responsibilities seriously. We will continue to try to resolve these issues, keeping in mind the best interests of all of PEF’s members.