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Shots for unionized med workers subject to bargaining

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Lately, the Centers for Disease Control regularly warns about the danger of the next super bug or pandemic flu outbreak. That’s one reason it’s no surprise that health care facilities want to inoculate staff against contagious illnesses. But in a union environment, it may not be enough to simply order employees to get shots.

As the following case shows, management may have to bargain with the union before forcing hospital personnel to get flu shots at work. That’s true even though there are serious public health reasons for an immunization program that cuts infections and keeps qualified medical personnel healthy and available to work during a health crisis.

Recent case: Virginia Mason Hospital ordered all its nurses to either get their annual flu shots or quit. The immunization program was a “fitness for duty” requirement. It’s aim was to get 100% participation in order to help prevent the flu from spreading from staff to patients or vice versa. The year before the mandate, only 55% of nurses voluntarily received the shots.

The nurses union protested, and an arbitrator sided with it, concluding that the inoculations program should have been negotiated as a condition of employment under the hospital’s collective bargaining agreement. The hospital appealed, to no avail. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the arbitrator’s decision and said the hospital could not unilaterally enforce the vaccine requirement. (Virginia Mason Hospital v. Washington State Nurses, No. 06-35073, 9th Cir., 2007)

Final note: Employers in the health care industry may want to add immunization programs to the next round of collective bargaining. Check with your labor attorneys well before bargaining starts and come up with a good proposal that protects patients, the facility and staff members from unnecessary health risks.

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