State workers sans shots to work Monday
It is unlikely that come Monday, when tens of thousands of state employees provide proof of vaccinations or negative COVID tests when their work weeks start, that those not in compliance will be immediately suspended without pay.
In fact, it may take several days as state officials tabulate rafts of employee information. But those eventually suspended will be ineligible for unemployment benefits.
The Lamont administration would prefer seeing wider-reaching vaccination compliance to dispensing discipline.
Major issues remain between the governor and unionized state workers, such as whether the state will pay for all mandatory weekly testing; offer cash incentives to increase vaccination compliance; and the exact career consequences for not complying with the governor’s executive orders.
All those hurdles remain under negotiations with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition as the late Sunday night deadline nears for the electronic filing of vaccination and/or negative COVID tests or exemption information.
The coalition has told employees to show up for work as if it were a regular workday, whether or not they are in full compliance.
On Friday, Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, sent an email telling all employees to come to work on Monday because the compliance issues may take days to get in order.
While information on exemptions, testing and vaccinations is due by midnight Sunday night, there will be a delay of several days to fully assess compliance, he said.
“As such, all employees should report to work on Monday as usual and continue to report normally until and unless notified otherwise,” Geballe said.
On Thursday, an eightpoint agreement was reached with SEBAC on major issues, with the possibility of further negotiations or arbitration.
Geballe agreed that who will pay for weekly testing remains a centerpiece of active talks with SEBAC. Earlier this week, the worker coalition told members that the first four tests, at least, will be paid for by the state.
“That is an open item, but generally speaking we don’t anticipate repetitive COVID screening being covered and that may be coming out of pocket, at cost to employees,” Geballe said Thursday.
“There is a very simple solution to this, which is get vaccinated. Almost 80 percent of the adults in this state have gotten vaccinated. It’s by far the mosteffective way to keep yourself and your family safe, and it gets rid of any concerns about inconvenience and more money related to testing.”
Unionized state employees can also claim medical or religious exemptions, and workers have been provided links to 25 sites that offer free testing.
“What happens subsequently, after a period of unpaid leave, is what is continuing to be negotiated,” Geballe said, stressing that applying for state unemployment benefits will not be an option.
“The key criteria for being eligible for unemployment is your employer doesn’t have work for you, and in this case it obviously would not be true,” Geballe said.
“There will be significant discipline for noncompliance. In addition, the employees, when they submit their vaccination and their test results, they attest to the validity of those results. It’s a misdemeanor to provide false documentation that has significant penalties associated with it as well.”
Sometime next week, state officials expect to get their first real look at state worker vaccination rates within the executive branch. The Judicial Branch has similar rules, and all people who enter courthouses are required to wear masks that cover their mouths and noses.