July 15, 2021
New Orleans Think about it. Nationally, healthcare facilities were a primary pandemic hot zone. Mortality in some states, take Louisiana for example, in these facilities were one-third of the total deaths. It’s not too hard to remember that hospitals were running out of beds and ventilators. We all held our breath until vaccines were developed that could stop the plague. That was then, this is now. Surely, we’ve learned our lessons.
Maybe not. Reports indicate that residents in long-term health facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living for the elderly and the differently abled, have now hit an 85% vaccination rate. Workers on the other hand are only about 46%. Reportedly, families are increasingly hesitant about having their loved ones in the facilities. Home prices are supposedly being buoyed in some instances by seniors changing their future plans away from such facilities and back to figuring out how to age in place in their own homes.
Now the Delta variant is prompting warnings everywhere. The United Kingdom has already made vaccinations mandatory for similar care homes. France is proposing a two-tier society with one set of rules for the vaccinated and another for those who resist. A dozen big hospital chains and counting have already made vaccinations mandatory. Our union representing many of these kinds of workers came to a simple conclusion: mandatory vaccinations are coming, so we better be ready to push some to the shots and protect, as long as possible, some who are skeptical.
Our speculation was confirmed when we had our first session on this issue with a large, 50,000 worker and national company, where we represent hundreds of workers in Louisiana. The VP for operations was frank. Their clinical team was moving to recommend mandatory vaxxing, as soon as the CDC removed the “emergency” designation from the vaccines, which both they and we believe will be soon. Their operations team on the other hand was worried about facing staff shortages so was slow walking, therefore any decision would take months to make.
Our position was simple. It’s inevitable, so first make vaccination mandatory for all new hires, and give us a runway of 90 to 120 days for existing workers to face reality or roll up their sleeves. We didn’t come to agreement in this preliminary call, but neither were we far apart. It seemed clear that it was simply a matter of time.
The operations guy had a deft way towards the end of the call of describing how they might do a version of the vaccination waltz. Maybe they wouldn’t institute a mandatory program, but would talk to the worker who didn’t want to be vaccinated, and see if she could be moved to another position where she didn’t have public or consumer contact. If there wasn’t any available position, and she still wasn’t ready for the shots, then there probably wasn’t any place for her in the company.
If it looks like a pig, squeals like a pig, and tastes like a pig, you can call it what you want, but it’s not a horse. There may be a lot of dancing, but mandatory is coming, and when it hits, no union will be able to save the job, so it’s worth letting workers know that they need to either saddle up for the shots now or start looking for a new place to work outside of the healthcare industry somewhere. Of course, that is if they can find a place where vaccinations won’t be required.