September 08, 2021

COVID soaring again—Delta variant strikes hard

The pandemic seemed to finally be subsiding as spring arrived this year, but since the emergence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the situation has been steadily worsening.

Delta is currently the predominant strain of the virus in the United States and according to the CDC is one of the most infectious respiratory diseases seen by experts. It’s twice as contagious as previous strains and makes up more than 83% of cases in the U.S.

Vaccines have proven to be the most effective way by far to protect against the coronavirus and its variants, reducing infection and preventing hospitalization and death.

About 97% of people hospitalized from COVID-19—and 99.5% of those who are dying from it—have not been vaccinated. An unvaccinated person is about 50 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than a vaccinated person, and nearly 300 times more likely to die if infected.

The vaccines are safe and effective. About 63% of all Americans who are eligible to receive the vaccine have gotten at least one dose.

“That’s why AFSCME is participating in member and public education efforts to inform and motivate hesitant people to get the vaccine,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

But AFSCME opposes coercive vaccine mandates that threaten termination or other punitive measures against those who do not get vaccinated. 

The alarming spread of the Delta virus has pushed an increasing number of employers to turn to “vaccination mandates”—requiring that all employees get vaccinated by a set date. Employers argue that fact-based education efforts have not been sufficient to move all employees to get vaccinated, greatly increasing the potential for COVID outbreaks in the workplace.

Dozens of employers in the private sector—most recently and prominently United Airlines—are taking this path. And public sector employers have begun to follow suit. The University of Illinois has issued a vaccine mandate for all employees, as have several other state universities. The State of Illinois issued a mandate only for employees who work in congregate settings. And both the City of Chicago and Cook County have also indicated that they intend to issue some form of vaccination mandate.

AFSCME Council 31 opposes rigid universal vaccination mandates. While employers have been found to have the legal right to establish such policies, labor law in our state and many others also requires that they bargain with unions over the impact of the policy on employees. AFSCME is using those negotiations to drive home the point that a rigid vaccination mandate would cause a host of problems, including exacerbating already existing morale and staffing issues.

Negotiations regarding mandates are underway with some of the state’s largest public employers, including the state of Illinois. In negotiations with the state, AFSCME has pointed out some agencies have been lax in their implementation of safety measures that can help to limit the spread of COVID. Without putting such protocols in place, COVID will continue to spread as it is well documented that even individuals who are vaccinated can be infected with the virus if they are in situations where it can readily be transmitted. For instance, in the Department of Corrections, offenders are not required to wear masks and are permitted to have visitors who are unmasked as well.

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