Thousands of public workers seek vaccine exemptions in Washington

Some 4,800 state employees in Washington have already requested medical or religious exemptions from Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

According to information released this week by the state, those requests amount to nearly 8% of the 60,000 state workers who fall under Inslee’s 24 cabinet departments. As of Sept. 6, less than 50% of all employees in those agencies were verified as being fully vaccinated.

Inslee last month issued an executive order that all state employees, as well as K-12 and state university staff, must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face dismissal.

“The governor is committed to saving lives, as he has been since the start of the pandemic,” a statement from Inslee’s office said. “That is his focus and responsibility to all Washingtonians.”

Inslee’s office also said they could not comment on whether any particular employee would be fired “as there is an accommodation process that each employer must go through with each employee who is seeking an exemption.”

More specific data released earlier this month showed that of 3,891 requests for religious exemptions, 737 had been approved and that of 892 requests for medical exemptions just 49 had been approved.

The Washington State Department of Health Services has the most employees seeking accommodation, with 743 asking for a religious exemption and 266 asking for a medical exemption.

Out of 2,300 Washington State Patrol employees, 373 have requested a religious exemption. Of those, 215 have been approved for sworn officers and another 69 for civil servants. All 22 medical exemptions thus far have been approved.

More than 90 state employees, including 80 patrol officers, recently filed a lawsuit against Inslee over the mandate, claiming it violates their constitutional rights.

Another lawsuit, filed in late August by the Washington Federation of State Employees, was settled before going to court. Some 80% of the union’s 47,000 members voted to ratify an agreement with Inslee that keeps the mandate in place.

In exchange, members get an additional personal leave day in 2022. Those who are eligible to retire by the end of the year and do not want to get vaccinated can use accrued leave beginning Oct. 18 through their retirement date.

The agreement also allows employees who file for an exemption by Oct. 18 and are eventually denied will have 45 days to become fully vaccinated without risk of termination.

Other unions, including those representing troopers and Department of Corrections Officers, are still negotiating with the state.

Inslee said last week he thought the agreement with the WFSE was a good template for those discussions.

This article was originally posted on Thousands of public workers seek vaccine exemptions in Washington