New York unions raise questions about state-mandated COVID vaccines, testing

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 4:52 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - New York is moving to mandate COVID vaccinations for health care workers and to require state employees gets vaccinated or tested regularly.

Union leaders for state employees say there is a lot that needs to be negotiated with the state before these changes are implemented. The state is aiming for Labor Day.

“It’s smart, it’s fair, it’s in everyone’s interest,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-New York.

Wednesday, the governor announced the 155,000 state employees will be required to get vaccinated or be regularly tested for COVID-19.

Some 5,900 of those employees call “Northern Upstate” home; that’s compromised of Essex, Clinton, Franklin and Hamilton counties.

“We are working with the unions to implement this quickly and fairly,” Cuomo said.

“We were caught off guard with this yesterday,” said John Roberts of the NYS Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association or NYSCOPBA.

NYSCOPBA represents roughly 2,000 corrections staffers in the region.

The union feels it should remain a choice to get a vaccine and has a lot of questions about what the testing requirements would look like.

“Who is going to do this testing? When, where, how? This is just stuff that we don’t have the staff to do,” Roberts said.

NYSCOPBA says prisons around the state are seeing staff shortages, leading to the staff working longer hours and filling in for those who need to quarantine.

The union also questions the repercussions if someone refuses.

“There is so many questions in an already tough year. Short staff across prisons for us and then we get hit with this. It just seems like it’s nonstop,” Roberts said.

Another large state employer in the area is SUNY Plattsburgh.

“We have to make sure that everyone’s due process rights are protected but at the same time we are committed to the health and well-being of our community,” said Fred Kowal of United University Professions.

Prior to the announcement, SUNY schools statewide were already requiring students and staff to undergo weekly testing if not vaccinated. But United University Professions, the union for SUNY staff representing 500 employees at SUNY Plattsburgh, says its concern is around the vaccine requirement at teaching hospitals in the state.

“There are going to be some sort of disciplinary actions against those who refuse to get the vaccine, that’s where real necessity for negotiations come in,” Kowal said.

These unions are asking the governor to sit down and discuss with them what would work best for the state employees.

The governor said he urges local governments to take the same steps with their employees.

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