Teachers unions split on endorsing vaccine mandates
The nation’s two major teachers unions on Thursday took differing stances on coronavirus vaccine mandates, highlighting the challenges facing city officials and administrators as children head back to school.
The National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teachers union, endorsed a policy of mandatory vaccination or regular testing for educators.
NEA President Becky Pringle said nearly 90 percent of the group’s 3 million members reported being vaccinated.
“As we enter a new school year amidst a rapidly spreading Delta variant and lagging public vaccination rates, it is clear that the vaccination of those eligible is one of the most effective ways to keep schools safe, and they must be coupled with other proven mitigation strategies,” Pringle said in a statement.
“We also support regular COVID-19 testing in lieu of vaccination for those not yet vaccinated or those for whom vaccination is not medically appropriate or effective. We believe that such vaccine requirements and accommodations are an appropriate, responsible, and necessary step to ensure the safety of our school communities and to protect our students,” Pringle said.
But the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) stopped short of a full endorsement, and instead endorsed a policy of negotiating potential mandates with employers.
A resolution adopted by the group encourages AFT representatives to meet with employers prior to their imposition of workplace vaccination policies, ensure workers are treated fairly and honor valid religious and medical exemptions.
The language is a softening of AFT President Randi Weingarten’s comments earlier this week, when she indicated the union would revisit its previous opposition to vaccine mandates. Weingarten said she was personally open to mandatory vaccinations.
“As a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers, not opposing them on vaccine mandates,” she said on Sunday.
On Thursday though, she struck a slightly different tone.
“While we still believe the best way to increase vaccinations is through education and voluntary adoption, we want to be in a position to work with our employers on workplace vaccination policies, including how they’re implemented—so people who need to be vaccinated can get accommodations, so everyone has access to vaccines and time to get them, and so no one is penalized for medical or religious reasons,” Weingarten said in a statement.
“We believe that workplace policies should be done with working people, not to them,” she added.
The NEA also emphasized the need for educators to have a voice in how vaccine requirements are implemented but did not make bargaining a condition of endorsing them.
The announcements from the unions come amid growing calls from parents, health experts and federal officials like Anthony Fauci and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to require teachers to be vaccinated.
California on Wednesday became the first state to require all teachers and staff in every school district be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. The move was backed by both of the state teachers unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.