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‘We Can’t be Compelled to Take the Vaccination’

By Tiffany DeMasters
August 5, 2021, 5:45 PM HST
* Updated August 5, 6:39 PM
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While Supportive of COVID-19 Vaccinations to Protect Public Health, Union Leaders Speak Out Against Ige’s Vaccine Mandate

Union leaders expressed frustration with Gov. David Ige’s recent use of emergency powers to mandate state and county employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

Following Ige and the county mayors’ press conference Thursday afternoon, Aug. 5, leaders from the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA), Hawai‘i Government Employees Association (HGEA), University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly (UHPA), and the United Public Workers (UPW) spoke to the media regarding the new mandate.

Click here for more on Gov. Ige’s mandate.

“We continue to believe it to be a necessary safeguard,” said Randy Perreira, executive director of HGEA. “We were prepared to work with employees.”

Union leaders told reporters they have been willing to work with Ige on this public health crisis and vaccination requirement. They expressed disappointment that the governor and county mayors chose a “confrontational approach,” rather than one that was “collaborative.”

“It’s somewhat troubling to see employees’ rights being trampled when we expressed that we were willing to work together,” Perreira said.

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Perreira said the union leaders reached on Monday to the state’s chief employer before the governor floated the idea of the mandate.

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“The fact that they don’t have details, they don’t have a plan, this is typical of this administration. They grandstand,” Perreira said. “This is just an attempt from the top down to look good in front of the public at a time when we’re not out of line with their thinking.”

All county and state employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 16. Most of the vaccines require two doses given 21 days apart. Even if an employee was able to get inoculated Friday, Aug. 6, it doesn’t give them enough time to comply with Ige’s order.

“This group of employers doesn’t care about their employees,” Perreira said.

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“This is America,” he added. “We can’t be compelled to take the vaccination.”

HSTA president Osa Tui Jr. said teachers have mostly taken advantage of the COVID-19 vaccine, with some who’ve decided to hold back pending the FDA’s full approval, religious, medical or personal beliefs.

“Hawai‘i continues to have a teacher shortage crisis,” Tui said. “This (mandate) may cause more teachers to leave the profession.”

Union leaders say Ige failed to provide consistency in regards to rules and exemptions to this mandate. Perreira said exemptions should be uniform.

“For the governor to take the position that each jurisdiction could do what they want is not wise leadership,” he said.

Liz Ho, UPW AFSCME Local 646 administrator, said there’s a lot of confusion as to what is going on and what the rules will be, however, they are committed to bargaining to make sure employees are treated fairly.

“They seem to say we’re coming out and challenging the vaccination, which is not the case,” Ho said. “We’ve reached out and no one has reached out to discuss any of this with us. We hope we will have a chance to negotiate and bargain.”

Some people may quit, Ho added, and that is their right.

Christian Fern, UHPA executive director, said they want something uniform that would apply to everyone.

“The six of us (union leaders) have been talking,” Fern added. “We simply wanted to have a voice at the table.”

None of the leaders have a clear idea of what the path forward is for them at this time.

“The first step for all of us is to get our hands on the proclamation,” Perreira said.

Tui said he stands ready and willing to meet these impacts and discuss bargaining.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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