State, SEIU agree on vaccine mandate for state employees with paid leave, exemptions


The State of Oregon and a union representing 22,000 of its employees reached an agreement Monday that gives workers paid time off to get a Covid vaccine before a state vaccination mandate goes into effect.

The agreement with SEIU 503 comes nearly six weeks after Brown announced she would require state employees working for the executive branch to get vaccinated as hospitalizations and the spread of the Delta variant surged.

Her original announcement said workers would have to be fully vaccinated by the Oct. 18 deadline, meaning they received their final shot at least two weeks before that deadline.

While that deadline remains in effect, the agreement says the state allows a “grace period” until Nov. 30 for workers who have only received one dose by the deadline. Those employees will have to work remotely or take leave until they are fully vaccinated.

Following the governor’s announcement, SEIU 503 issued a demand to bargain over the order, with union leaders saying they believed everyone should get vaccinated, but that the state would have to negotiate details with employees.

SEIU 503 spokesperson Ben Morris said the union members’ priorities in bargaining for the agreement were ensuring employees had adequate paid leave to cover getting and recovering from the vaccine, and that the exemption application process was clear.

“The bargaining team felt that they were able to get to a good place on both those things,” Morris said.

Morris said it was important for state employees covered under the vaccine mandate to play a role in setting its policies.

“I think it’s a win both for public health and for the voices of our members. They were able to have a say in how this was implemented, and I think ultimately, that’ll make it more effective,” he said of the agreement. “It’s critical to listen to the people impacted by policies when you’re making them.”

The union represents state employees in departments including the Oregon Department of Transportation, Department of Human Services and the Department of Justice.

The state is still in bargaining with another union, Oregon AFSCME, that represents more than 2,000 state employees including corrections officers, those working at the Department of Environmental Quality and state lands employees.

“The Delta variant sweeps through Oregon, causing school closures and often causing workers to take up to two weeks of unpaid leave if exposed,” said Stacy Chamberlain, executive director for Oregon AFSCME. “It is imperative the State work to ensure frontline workers receive the leave and support they need to do their job on behalf of the people of Oregon.”

Brown’s vaccine mandate affects employees working for the executive branch, which includes all state agency employees and employees of boards, commissions and other departments that report to the governor or another statewide elected official.

When possible, the agreement said state agencies must offer work time for employees to get the Covid vaccine or allow them to change their schedules to get it on work time. Those employees who can’t will be compensated with overtime.

Employees who aren’t able to work because they have adverse reactions to the vaccine will use sick leave as available, with any additional missed time covered by the state as “miscellaneous paid leave” if sick leave is used up, the agreement said.

The agreement said SEIU and the state will revisit the agreement if the federal or state Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires more generous leave for employees who get vaccinated on work time or have adverse reactions to the vaccine.

The state is required under federal and state law to reasonably accommodate people who aren’t able to get vaccinated because of a disability, medical conditions or “a sincerely held religious belief,” the agreement said. Those who qualify have to submit a written request for an exception by Oct. 18. Accommodations can include working remotely, changing positions, shift changes or “physical modifications to the employee’s work area.”

Employees can work remotely before they are fully vaccinated, or use either vacation time, compensatory leave or leave without pay during that time if remote work is not possible.

If an employee is denied an exception, they will have seven calendar days to get their first vaccine dose before their employer takes personnel action and must complete the vaccine series. Workers can use vacation time, compensatory leave or leave without pay in the time between their denial and second dose.

The state is also required to delay reopening state offices currently operating remotely – both to the public and remote workers returning – until at least Jan. 1 to ensure worker health and safety.

The agreement will remain in effect until June 30, 2022, or until Brown terminates her executive order requiring state employees to get vaccinated, whichever is sooner.

 Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!