Opinion: State agencies can rehire workers terminated for lack of a COVID-19 vaccine

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center states that the governor’s vaccine mandate brought no demonstrable public health benefit, while harming individuals and hurting the public workforce.
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Elizabeth Hovde states that the governor’s vaccine mandate brought no demonstrable public health benefit, while harming individuals and hurting the public workforce

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

When Gov. Jay Inslee’s misguided vaccine mandate ended in May, his office said there would not be an outreach effort to rehire the more than 2,000 employees lost because of the condition for employment — even with staff shortages in the state workforce. Instead, fired state workers could reapply for their former jobs or seek new careers with the state just like everyone else. (I thought they should be asked to return, pretty please, and that the ask should be accompanied by an apology for a mandate that was outdated before it even began, ignoring science and ruining careers.)

Elizabeth Hovde
Elizabeth Hovde

Fast-forward five months? The same executive tune is being sung, even with continued shortages and only 25.6% of Washingtonians up to date with COVID shots, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. However, governor spokesman Mike Faulk did say, “When agencies have vacancies to fill, hiring managers may reach out to people who in their judgment have relevant job experience and are eligible for employment.” 

Thank goodness. I hope hiring forces are taking advantage of the common-sense solution to staffing shortages when they exist. 

The communications director for the Department of Transportation also told me that Washington State Ferries had a formal reinstatement process via a memorandum of understanding with the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA). Cheers to the union for standing up for its workers. The agreement instituted a 45-day rehiring window between August 1-September 15. (The ferry system even hired back a few former employees before the MOU was in place. When you’re having to cut back ferry sailings due to staffing issues, rehiring looks attractive.) I’m not sure how many workers this effort gathered for the staff-troubled ferry system, but I have asked for follow-up.

A mea culpa could bring healing 

I want a top-down mea culpa and olive branch extended to all who were wrongly terminated. It should be as strongly pursued as was the governor’s mandate. Since that isn’t likely to happen, possibly for reasons both stubborn and legal, I hope more hiring managers of state agencies are taking advantage of the hiring ability afforded them. Workers, whose employment is made possible with taxpayer dollars, were mistreated and vilified in Washington state. The least the state can do is offer them back their jobs.

It’s easy to get lost researching the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and various boosters. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole looking at how many injuries or deaths are reported in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. I have been dismayed by the way counting and reporting COVID-19 deaths happened throughout the nation. Did a patient die “from” or “with” COVID-19? It’s complicated, but messaging from the government was far too simple. Leaders didn’t seem to care about the nuance in the numbers.

When considering COVID-19 vaccine policy, however, not the vaccine itself, what mattered was what we knew. We knew, even before the governor’s initial COVID-19 vaccine mandate was enforced, that both people who were vaccinated and those who weren’t could contract and spread the disease. We knew that all state workers interact with people in their homes and communities, not just in workplaces. We knew that older populations, not workers, were most at risk for severe illness or death. All these knowns made the governor’s long-running mandate on employees unacceptable, misguided and litigation-worthy. Since vaccinated workers could spread and contract COVID-19, the mandate was discriminatory.

I chose to be vaccinated with the primary series, given family situations and work travel. I chose not to get boosters, given the research I did. I can only imagine losing my career over a health decision my doctor and I made. But that’s what happened to thousands of state workers and health care providers. Washingtonians need to remember this and should demand the righting of state wrongs. 

For all the talk from leaders about trusting one’s provider, by the way, my primary care physician wasn’t trusted when it came to vaccination. Instead, she was fired for not being vaccinated. I wasn’t alone in losing a primary caregiver. The head of the Washington State Hospital Association said the mandate caused some hospitals added strain. Roughly 3,000 hospital workers lost their jobs.  

The governor’s vaccine mandate brought no demonstrable public health benefit, while harming individuals and hurting the public workforce. Even if vaccines end up being able to take credit for preventing some severe illness and death from or with COVID-19, as they appear to be doing (see state and King County COVID-19 outcomes by vaccination status here and here), vaccine mandates on employment never could. A comparison of death rates among states with and without vaccine mandates makes that clear. Many factors are involved in good or bad COVID-19 outcomes. Crediting mandates painted an incomplete picture. 

In addition to jobs lost, individual budgets harmed and state service levels that suffered because of the mandate, workers were vilified. They were called selfish. Their health and independent research were not respected. Hiring managers could help change these workers’ employment situations and community perceptions by reaching out to people who were wrongly terminated in COVID-19 times.

Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.

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  1. Gavin

    Okay, this one is better. I bet they are making them sign waivers saying they cannot sue and that their supervisors are not liable.

    Next is jail for that criminal sleezeball governor. He swore an oath, broke it, then commited crimes against the citizens in the name of greed, power, and globalism.

  2. Gavin

    Don’t forget LOTT Clean Water Alliance. I have it on good authority that they fired 4 people (out of a workforce of 60) and denied at least 1 or 2 religious exemptions in November 2021. Erin Michael (HR), Mike Strub (Director), Matt Kennelly (Asst. Director), Brian Topolski (Engr. Director), Terri Pather (Plant Manager). At least 50 percent were coerced and at least 20 percent were basically forced through threat of their job. The rest are covid nutjobs.


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