Back in July, in my article “Members Under Attack,” I provided numerous instances of global circumstances outlining how our membership is facing adversity like never before. As I write this month’s article, PPOA is engaged in one of, if not the most, controversial and polarizing topics in my career: the County’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Let’s be perfectly clear. PPOA, as an organization, highly recommends protecting yourselves and colleagues in the workplace by utilizing available personal protective options such as hand sanitizers, masks, as well as the COVID-19 vaccine if you so desire and if it is permissible within your personal beliefs. The safety of our members and their families is of paramount importance.
That being said, the COVID-19 executive order mandating all County employees to be vaccinated by October 1 is a herculean task, resource intensive and threatening to the livelihood of County employees. What happened to labor relations with our employer partners, the Board of Supervisors? When/how did good governing surrender itself to placating to political perception? What happened to Los Angeles County being a “labor county”? Why have they stopped listening to reason?
To date, as of September 23, the County has only met with the Coalition of County Unions (CCU) — which negotiates on behalf of 14 unions (30,000-plus employees) including PPOA, ALADS, Fire, Probation and others — three times. If this “mandate” is so important, where is the participation? Why are they engaging in bad faith actions, communicating with our members information that has not yet been agreed upon?
The County’s proposals include verbiage such as “mandatory,” “corrective action” and “termination.” Whereas in comparison, the CCU proposals have included language such as “goals,” “education” and “testing.” What is the intent of the Board of Supervisors? Do they not understand that if the goal is improved compliance with the COVID-19 vaccination, it would be obtained much faster and in higher numbers utilizing incentives rather than unemployment?
CCU negotiators continue to battle for a comprehensive, incentive-based, data-driven solution with a reasonable timeline. These discussions are founded on reality-based arguments such as:
- What magically happens on October 1?
- Are the number of COVID-19 cases, based on Department of Public Health numbers, not dropping dramatically?
- Has the County calculated the number of interactive process meetings (IPMs) required for the anticipated medical and religious exemptions?
- Who will complete these meetings?
- Have they been properly trained on the nuances required of IPMs so as to not violate ADA and HIPAA laws?
- Has the civil liability of those (not/poorly trained) supervisors violating these laws during IPMs been accounted for?
- Does the County even know how many within its workforce of approximately 100,000 employees are vaccinated?
- Is the County ready for 5,000, 15,000 or 25,000 employees to be unavailable to report to work?
- Could the County function with these types of numbers not available to work?
- What is the financial burden to the County to not have these people come to work and have to subsidize with overtime?
- What is the financial drain to the County to process the large numbers of suspensions and subsequent termination of employees?
- What is the long-term economic impact of a potential loss in knowledge, training and experience of this magnitude?
WHAT HAPPENED TO LABOR RELATIONS IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY?
In years past, these questions would all have been presented early on during collaborative discussions between labor partners. Now, these questions remain unanswered in impact bargaining sessions after the fact. How can the County expect this to work in such an accelerated timeline?
The PPOA Board of Directors is an unyielding advocate during these negotiations, fighting for all of our members regardless of personal beliefs or positions on this issue, as due process was bypassed, and your rights to employment are being challenged.
The PPOA Board of Directors is following a legal, political and collaborative strategy with our labor partners, ALADS and the other members of the CCU. We have thoroughly researched legal options and opinions from the top legal defense attorneys utilized by our coalition partners (FOP, California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations, Southern California Alliance of Law Enforcement and Peace Officers Research Association of California) and monitor numerous lawsuits nationwide for any nuggets of knowledge that may adjust our strategy.
Speaking of strategy and lawsuits, PPOA, as well as many other unions, has become aware of various law firms operating statewide to step into the legal fracas on this issue. All I can say is, buyer beware! As described above, PPOA is utilizing every legal resource possible in our strategies. The current legal atmosphere does not bode well in challenging COVID-19-related mandates. Groups asking individuals for “donations” or “upfront fees” to fund temporary restraining orders or other legal action may not have your best interest.
PPOA continues to make ourselves available for collaborative discussions with the Board of Supervisors. We welcome the opportunity to provide reasonable recommendations in addressing the needs of the County during this pandemic, utilizing logic and attainable timelines. This organization is a proud member of the CCU, L.A. County Federation of Labor and national AFL-CIO, which gives us many opportunities to work collaboratively.
I’ll conclude this article with a quote I was reminded of from years back: “Work with me, people!”