PORTLAND, Ore. — More than half of Oregon’s state employees now have an extra six weeks to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with the deadline pushed back to Nov. 30.
The change affects about 24,000 state employees represented by the Service Employees International Union 503 out of about 42,000 state executive branch employees.
It’s unclear if the changes will apply to the remaining 18,000 state employees covered by Gov. Kate Brown’s vaccination mandate. But SEIU’s success at pushing back Brown’s initial Oct. 18 deadline for full vaccination may bode well for other unions.
“The collective bargaining process is still under way with other bargaining units,” Brown spokesperson Elizabeth Merah said in a written response to questions Tuesday.
The same Oct. 18 deadline set by Brown for health care workers and teachers remains in place, Brown’s office said.
Brown announced the vaccine mandate among all executive branch employees Aug. 10, the same day Oregon set case and hospitalization records amid a worsening summer surge. At the time, SEIU made clear its plans to bargain over Brown’s mandate.
Union members now have more time to complete shots but no more leeway in getting vaccinated than they did before. Giving workers some extra time to finish the vaccination process, along with a new guarantee that the state will give people extra time off if they need it, will ultimately serve Oregon’s end goal, union Executive Director Melissa Unger said.
“They’re just nervous, or they have questions they want answered,” Unger said of her members. “The state is showing that their goal here is getting people vaccinated.”
The new agreement also allays some concerns Unger said SEIU 503 members raised, including whether they will get extra time off if they have side-effects from the vaccine. If a worker has already used up their sick leave, the state will now allow them the time necessary to recover.
Workers now must either get their first shot by Oct. 18 or apply for an exception on the grounds of a disability, medical condition or religious beliefs.
Brown’s vaccination mandate applies only to employees in Oregon’s executive branch agencies and does not include workers in the court system or legislature. Those who don’t comply could be fired, per Brown’s August order.
Brown announced the vaccination mandate this summer at the same time she called for indoor masking requirements.
“I am taking action to help ensure State of Oregon workplaces are safe for employees and customers alike, and I am strongly encouraging all public and private employers to follow suit by requiring vaccination for their employees,” she said of the state requirement.
On Monday, SEIU, rather than Brown’s office, announced that the deadline to be fully vaccinated had been pushed back six weeks.
It’s unclear how many state workers are fully vaccinated. Officials last month couldn’t say and Brown’s office on Tuesday didn’t answer.