By the Editorial Team
In January and February 2023, rumors began to circulate. A proposal was afoot! The goal? Rehiring Washington state employees lost due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
On the Jason Rantz Show (Conservative Talk Radio 770 KTTH), King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn stressed the need to “rehire” King County employees lost to vaccination mandates. He’s standing on somewhat solid ground, as on February 6, King County and the City of Seattle issued a press release stating they no longer required proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
In that February 6 announcement, King County Executive Dow Constantine said, “Today, our experts advise that immunity has reached a level that allows these requirements to be relaxed.”
Meanwhile, on February 19, KOMO News reported on proposed legislation HB 1814. According to KOMO, Rep. Chris Corry “introduced a house bill that would create hiring preferences for bringing back state workers that were fired, and give those workers a chance to catch up on contributions to the state retirement plan.”
HB 1814 is not alone. Cyndy Jacobson was interviewed in January by John Sattgast, on Washington House Republican Radio. She promoted another bill, HB 1029 (which also concerns the re-employment of workers dismissed due to vaccine mandates), by saying, “Let’s encourage localities and encourage private sector businesses to hire back those people if they want their jobs. Let’s mandate that the state create a pathway … Let’s just extend an olive branch and get moving beyond all this vaccine mandate stuff.” Both bills, having made a splash in the local news pool, now sit in the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, and their future is anything but certain.
The evolving nature of the situation is addressed in HB 1814, right up front: “The legislature further finds that vaccine requirements for state employees continue to evolve as the most recently negotiated state employee collective bargaining agreements remove the vaccine booster requirement and replace it with a $1,000 incentive payment. In light of recent and future changes to employer-mandated vaccination policies, it is the intent of the legislature to facilitate the efficient return of state employees who separated from employment due to mandatory vaccination policies, by providing a hiring preference.”
While King County has made an official policy change, HB 1814 is only a proposed bill, seemingly stuck in committee. Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee’s current FAQ page, pursuant to Directive 22-13.1 (which went into effect November 1, 2022) states: “The directive establishes a condition of employment for new employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the date they begin state employment, and continues the requirement for existing employees.” And, “The state reached agreement with most unions representing cabinet agency employees to continue the vaccination requirement via an interim agreement until June 30, 2023. New collective bargaining agreements with all unions contain the vaccination requirement, and those go into effect July 1, 2023.”
We don’t know what all of this means for the experienced deputy, ferry worker, firefighter, transportation worker, or other state employee wishing to return to their careers. At this moment, we’re not sure anyone does! But, we’re actively seeking answers to these questions, and we’ll share what we learn in our April Issue.
As this story is complex and evolving, we’d like to share a few resources that help shed light on the situation. Many of us view our government institutions with some level of hesitancy. Is it because power is inherently intimidating? Does the veneer of legalese make us feel uncomfortable? Most students graduate high school thoroughly unprepared to engage with our system of government. Luckily, this need not remain the case! Once you learn a bit about how things work, our Capitol begin to feel like what it is: Our House.
(1) Proposed Bills are sometimes brand new, and at other times, they are a list of recommended changes to existing bills. They are usually offered in a PDF version.
(2) The Governor’s Office has a website with a treasure trove of information. For this article, we deeply appreciated their FAQ related to Vaccine Mandates in WA State. This is where we discovered that unions will soon bear the weight for Covid-19 vaccine mandates, as per their new CBAs going into effect on July 1st, 2023.
(3) Do you know what the “executive cabinet” and “small cabinet” are, what they do, and who runs them? This is a eye-opening and relevant, because Directive 22-13.1 applies to all executive cabinet and small cabinet agency worksites and employees.
(4) History always matters. While legislative bills can be long and repetitive, these Directives of the Governor are short and to the point: 22-13 and 22-13.1.