IT HAS BEEN over a month since our two unions announced support for vaccine mandates for 30,000 members across Massachusetts. Since then, we have seen a host of other employers come forward and join us – but not enough. We need more labor unions and employers to join us in being on the right side of history.
Labor unions and employers across sectors have a moral responsibility to support and protect workers, our loved ones, and our neighbors – and we know mandates work. Earlier this month, Tyson Foods announced that they reached an agreement regarding a vaccine mandate with United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that represents Tyson’s employees across the country. The agreement includes paid sick leave, allowing workers to take time off to get vaccinated and recover from possible side effects. Since the announcement was made, the number of vaccinated employees jumped from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Here in Massachusetts, we have spoken out in support of a mandate because our members know that vaccines are a community responsibility. In the midst of the devastation brought on by COVID, we have seen the importance of our members’ work and the services they provide. With our members working in children’s welfare services, education, and direct care, vaccine mandates are a way to mitigate the impacts of the virus on those most vulnerable among us, including our very own loved ones.
Numbers are on the rise from the Delta variant, and among those most feeling the impact are our elders and children. In the last week, the average age of Massachusetts residents who died from COVID-19 was 74 years. With no options for children under 12, those of us that are able to get vaccinated need to take this important step to protect our most vulnerable community members.
As we continue to navigate returning to the programs and services our communities urgently need, we can take a vital step to make sure our collective safety is our number one priority: Urging vaccinations across cities and employers across our Commonwealth, and mandating where we need it most. Along with this, the Legislature needs to do its part and renew emergency sick leave to ensure workers are covered.
Our state has taken the important step of mandating vaccines for state workers. At this critical moment, when standing together for health and safety will protect elders, children, and working people, Massachusetts has sent a powerful message of support for the safety of our communities. As unions of human service workers and educators, we know that standing in solidarity with one another is the only way to ensure our communities are strong.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we all do what we need to in order to protect each other.
Peter MacKinnon is the president of SEIU Local 509 and Jessica Tang is the president of the Boston Teachers Union.