Personal choice over your body, healthcare and freedom at capitol protest rally
According to Glen Morgan, citizen activist and founder of WeTheGoverned.com, there were 1,200 to 1,500 people gathered at the state Capitol in Olympia on Saturday to protest Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate. On Aug. 26, the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) sued Inslee, the Office of Financial Management, and the State of Washington. They represent approximately 47,000 civil service employees.
The mandate, which Inslee announced in early August, requires most state workers, healthcare workers and school employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face losing their jobs. Inslee has said that getting people vaccinated is essential for getting Washington past the pandemic.
Organizers of the rally Saturday warned that a large segment of state workers, including many firefighters, sanitation workers and bus drivers, won’t get the vaccine — as much as 30 to 40 percent statewide, they said. Those numbers appear to come from anecdotal stories rather than hard evidence from government agencies.
“I am completely opposed to the Governor’s vaccine mandates,” said Rep. Vicki Kraft (Republican, 17th District). “He is clearly violating the U.S. and Washington Constitutional rights and freedoms guaranteed to the people. As a Representative of the people, I was glad to join those in Olympia this weekend who stood up to make their voices heard to say NO to this vaccine mandate. I will always fight for the people’s rights and freedoms.”
Morgan was invited to emcee the event. He asked the crowd how many were state or government workers (or married to one) — an estimated 75 percent or more raised their hands.
“We had so many firefighters in the crowd, they couldn’t all fit on the stage,” Morgan said.
State ferry workers filled the stage when invited up.
According to Morgan, they were mostly angry about Inslee’s “mandate or be fired” message. Some people were anti-vaccine, but most were just anti-compulsion and against the threats of the governor to fire them. He noted that most of these state agencies were already a majority vaccinated.
“If the Governor refuses to rescind his mandate, it will mean that multiple areas of the state will be severely reduced or shut down completely,” Tyler Miller, of the group Liberty, At All Hazards, said in a news release. “The Governor is unnecessarily threatening the genuine safety and well-being of the citizens of Washington if he forces his mandate to stand.”
The union lawsuit argues the Governor failed to negotiate this “working condition” which the union contract mandates. “Given the Proclamation’s definition of ‘fully vaccinated,’ coupled with the required intervening time between vaccinations of some of the vaccines, for all employees, the real deadline to have the vaccine administered is at least October 4, 2021, to allow two weeks after the final shot. For at least one of the vaccines, the last day to get the first of two required shots is September 6, 2021,” reads the legal filing.
Religious reasons constitute one of two exceptions to the vaccine mandate, with the other being medical-related. Gov. Inslee recently expanded the vaccination directive already in place for state and health care employees, requiring workers in K-12 and higher education institutions as well as most child care and early learning centers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
“In determining whether an employee’s religious belief is sincerely held,” the guidance reads, “a limited initial inquiry could include objective, general questions, without delving too far into an employee’s reasons for a particular belief and without requiring input from an outside source, such as a formal religious leader.”
The state’s “template religious accommodation request form,” as designed for school districts, offers insight into the request process. The form asks five questions pertaining to an employee’s religious belief.
“These forms just need to be shown to the employer to be accepted,” Mike Faulk, a spokesman from Inslee’s office said. Employees who do not comply with the vaccination requirement “will no longer continue to be employed,” Faulk said.
“More specifics on how separations will be processed are still being discussed,” he said.
The forms require approval from an employer’s human resources representative, the governor’s order does not allow self-attested exemptions, Faulk shared.
Vancouver attorney Angus Lee provided an example for medical employees of what a religious accommodation request letter looks like, earlier this month. “There are likely many ways to write such a letter,’’ Lee said. He offered a DRAFT of one possible letter from a Christian perspective.
Adding to the concerns of these workers has been statements indicating those who refuse to comply may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Rep. Jim Walsh on Friday said “the Governor may be on thin ice” regarding that issue because people have paid into the system and have earned those unemployment benefits if they are terminated.
“It clearly is a situation where the governor is trying to talk tough to make people as scared as they can be about losing their job and not getting unemployment so that they’ll take the shots,” Walsh said.
Pushback is happening on several levels.
Woodland has become the first city in Southwest Washington to pass a formal declaration opposing Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The Woodland City Council called an emergency meeting Thursday night to consider the resolution proposed by Councilor Dave Plaza.
The members of the City Council voted 5-0 to pass the resolution and Mayor Will Finn signed the act moments later. The resolution pledged that the city would not require vaccinations for city employees.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that ‘Even if either the Federal or a state government is acting within its authority to respond to COVID-19, a state of emergency does not give it free reign to violate constitutional rights,’” the resolution states. It also cited section 3 of the state constitution saying “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
The resolution spoke of coercion by the government. They said the state constitution does not allow the governor to order private companies to “terminate employees exercising their lawful rights.”
“You should always be given the choice to make an informed decision about a vaccine, and should never have to choose between your livelihood or submission for one,” said Heidi St. John, a candidate for representative in the 3rd Congressional District. “Our medical freedoms are absolutely being infringed upon, and people are suffering from increased mental health issues because of the ocean of false and misleading information out there.”
Union leaders representing firefighters in departments throughout Kitsap County are pushing back on a state mandate that healthcare workers – including firefighters, paramedics and EMTs – be forced to get the vaccine. “The decision regarding the vaccine is complex and personal; we believe our members should retain the ability to make their own decisions on personal health matters,” said the Kitsap firefighters union.
Craig Becker, president of the union that represents Central Kitsap, Poulsbo and North Kitsap firefighters, pointed to the mandate for federal government workers and contractors, which requires those employees to be vaccinated or comply with rules on masking, weekly testing and distancing, and said he’d like to see Inslee implement a similar option.
The WFSE is asking the court to grant a preliminary and permanent injunction.