Minnesota nurse and public employee unions split with Walz over vaccine mandate

Three unions that always have DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s political back have left the governor out on a limb when it comes to rank-and-file support for his vaccine mandate for state employees.  The deep divisions that have surfaced among the liberal unions’ members over vaccination undercut the left’s narrative that Minnesotans who choose to remain unvaccinated mainly skew conservative.

While none of the labor groups have flat out opposed Walz’s vaccine edict, neither have they come out in favor of it. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and Minnesota Nurses Association have pointedly declined to take a position on the state mandate which took effect the day before President Biden announced a national mandate for federal government workers.

Perhaps most embarrassing to Walz is that the union representing 22,000 nurses, many on the epidemic’s front lines, failed to endorse his mandate. While nurses are not state government employees, many of their jobs also depend on being vaccinated, due to hospital mandates or President Biden’s executive order forcing nurses in facilities with Medicare or Medicaid patients to get the shot. It’s comical to see how the Minnesota Nurses Association danced around the issue in a delicately worded September 9 news release.

Recently, the MNA Board of Directors surveyed MNA members asking their positions on impending mandatory vaccination programs being put forth by Minnesota hospitals. After reviewing the results of the survey and the wide variety of member positions on these issues, the MNA BOD does not believe members are unified around any one position either for or against the mandatory vaccination programs.

Over at AFSCME, the biggest public employee union with 43,000 members, the message came out largely the same. Lots of happy talk about vaccination, but still no endorsement for the governor’s mandatory jab.

Our union’s position remains the same as we have had since the creation and distribution of the vaccine: We highly encourage all eligible Minnesotans to receive the vaccine to protect themselves, their co-workers, friends, family, and communities. Our union has not taken a position in support of mandatory vaccinations.

Employers such as the State of Minnesota, Regions Hospital, City of St. Paul, Ramsey County, Hennepin Healthcare, the federal government, Mayo Clinic, and others have instituted/expressed their intent to issue vaccine and/or testing mandate choices and protocols. We are closely following-up on these rapidly changing developments and there are questions yet to be answered.

The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees also skirts the issue, promising its 15,000 members to work to improve the mandate and protect their jobs, even if unvaccinated.

Now that we are involved, we will advocate for those improvements and look forward to working with the administration to ensure these improvements are made. It’s important all Minnesotans work together to end this pandemic so we can all safely go back to our jobs, classrooms, and communities, and spend time with our families and friends. MAPE will work to ensure that members who cannot, or choose not to, be vaccinated are able to continue working with mitigations that protect everyone’s safety through masking and testing.

We have many questions that need to be answered before the policy goes into effect on Sept. 8…

There’s no indication yet of how many state government workers have refused the governor’s vaccination order or the overall compliance rate. As usual, there’s always an exception carved out — workers in the state court system and employees of the Minnesota Legislature are exempt from the mandate.

But Walz has made it clear on the state website that the thousands of state employees who have chosen not to be vaccinated up to this point risk losing their jobs.

If you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing. If you refuse to test, you may be placed in no-pay status and may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge.