On Monday, August 9, 2021, the WSCFF and the IAFF learned of Governor Inslee’s proclamation requiring vaccination of healthcare workers, including those of us in the fire, paramedic, and emergency medical services.
As I reflect on the email I sent on Friday, August 13, 2021, in response to the proclamation, I realize it lacked clarity and respect to our organizational process. With such a short time frame, your WSCFF has not been able to put the issue of mandatory vaccination through our normal, transparent process. The WSCFF is not taking a position on the specific issue of mandatory vaccinations. We are opposed to the timeframe established by the proclamation and what we see as a lack of clarity related to the forms, process, and administrative control of this mandate.
The WSCFF is an affiliate state organization within the IAFF. We work closely with IAFF DVP Ricky Walsh and have access to IAFF General President Kelly, General Secretary-Treasurer Lima, and the resources at the IAFF headquarters. We will continue to work with them to ensure we are doing our best as we navigate through something that is new to us all. Since the time of the proclamation, your WSCFF and IAFF DVP Walsh have been fully engaged and have treated this matter with the utmost importance. We recognize that we have members who support the vaccination requirement and members who oppose it. Regardless of a member’s position, your local leadership has a responsibility to negotiate the impacts and effects of the proclamation.
We are collaborating with our greater communities. We issued a joint statement with the Washington Fire Chiefs and have been in constant contact with them to alleviate any confusion from either side. We are working closely with the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), and we have been – and will continue to be – participating in meetings, listening to other labor representatives, and providing our input. We are asking questions and looking for answers and direction on those areas where we believe there is ambiguity. The WSLC represents nearly 500,000 members in Washington and is recognized as the voice of labor in our state.
The WSCFF and our locals employ the most qualified, talented, and well-educated legal teams in the state. We are consulting with them and the legal team at the IAFF headquarters, ensuring we are acting in accordance with their opinions and direction on this issue. Most of our locals have communicated with their employers to verify the messaging from the employers’ legal teams. At this time, the labor, employer, and IAFF legal teams we have consulted all have concluded the Governor is operating within his emergency powers to have issued this proclamation.
There are several landmark Supreme Court decisions that have sided with the states’ authority to require vaccinations in the interest of protecting public health. Specifically, the case of Jacobson V. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (circa 1905) sets the framework through the Supreme Court that has allowed states to impose vaccination requirements. Jacobson v. Massachusetts has been cited in every decision regarding this issue since 1905.
This reality is difficult. And the legal precedent on this issue is in fact our current reality. Your local leaders, WSCFF Executive Board members, and IAFF DVP Walsh have all set aside our personal opinions and beliefs to work neutrally and professionally on behalf of every member. We are scrutinizing every communication, decision, and action to ensure we are fulfilling our duties of office with integrity and the best of intentions. Your leadership teams are responsible for navigating this situation with all members’ interests in mind and providing you with information so you can make educated decisions.
We have also been in direct contact with Governor Inslee and his team. We have raised questions related to mandatory COVID-19 testing, anti-body defense systems, and the timelines associated with the proclamation. We will continue our efforts with the Governor’s office. We have met with him and/or his team multiple times and will continue to request meetings to advocate for our members.
We have asked for clarification on the exemption process and how it will work for both the employees and employers. This issue is critical, and we must be aware of the positives and negatives of the exemptions and the ramifications of a non-valid exemption.
The WSCFF Executive Board is meeting frequently to discuss the latest developments and to make sure we have the most current information. We are committed to acting professionally and understanding and respecting the views of our members. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. We are developing a Frequently Asked Question document that we will make available to all members.
You are encouraged to review all the information and resources about this issue on the WSCFF website. As a member, we respectfully ask that your first contact be to your local leadership. The chain of command is not required; however, following it is respectful and appreciated.
It is our duty as elected leaders to make the best decisions possible for the members with the information and resources we have. Good leadership means telling you the truth, even when it’s not what you want to hear. I’m exceedingly proud of all our leaders – from the local to national level – for how mindfully, skillfully, and considerately they have shouldered this task.
Dennis J. Lawson, President