Community Transit COVID Mandate Reponse

Brothers and Sisters of ATU 1576,

We all have been watching the news for several weeks now as millions of Americans face looming deadlines to get COVID-19 vaccines, as employee mandates take effect all across the country.   We were not surprised when Community Transit CEO Ric Ilgenfritz instituted a policy late last month requiring all employees to comply with company-wide vaccination mandate or face separation from employment, if no reasonable accommodation is granted to them.

It is hard to believe after all we have been through this year and last, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting hardships and deeply felt losses, that we are now facing a situation that will impact more of our members that any other has. 

While the majority of us are thankful for the opportunity to get a vaccine that is safe and effective, there are those who are unable to take this vaccine due to a deeply held religious belief or because they have been advised by their medical doctor not to take the vaccine for health concerns. Others are opposed to the mandate on principle.

We want to begin by saying this: It has been the position of this union from the start, that regardless of our own personal feelings on vaccines, we are solidly against a mandate that puts our members at jeopardy of losing their jobs.   We are here to represent all of our members, including those who have a medical, religious or philosophical reason for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

We recognize and honor the fact that these members who have served our community throughout this pandemic as essential workers, who weren’t able to shelter in place and have done every single thing that they were asked to do, now face losing their jobs if they are not accommodated.  This issue, while deeply polarizing, cannot be allowed to divide our union family or to divide our focus on representing ALL of our members. 

Timeline of what we have been working on so far:

 •   On September 28, 2021 Community Transit notified ATU of the vaccine mandate for all employees.  The mandate includes a timeline for full employee compliance by December 31, 2021.

•   September 28, 2021 The same day the policy letter from Ric Ilgenfritz went out to all employees, ATU 1576 sent a Demand to Bargain letter to Community Transit. CT has agreed to bargain the impacts of the mandate.

•   On October 1, 2021 President Kathleen Custer and Vice President Dani Julien met with our union labor attorneys to obtain legal advice and guidance.  We want to assure our membership that as a union we are very well represented and are getting solid legal advice.  The attorneys at Frank Freed, Subit & Thomas have represented this local for more that 20 years. They have a deep level of understanding and experience with labor law and worker’s rights advocacy. Their resumes can be accessed from the firm’s website.

•   October 5, 2021 ATU met with Community Transit for our first bargaining session on the mandate. At this first meeting, CT informed us that the process to implement any requests for exemption was not finalized.  

•   October 6, 2021 ATU met again with our attorneys, Mike Subit and Anne Silver, to discuss available options for bargaining demands.

•   Yesterday, October 7, we met with the full Community Transit Executive Board to update them on the status of our impact bargaining.  As we updated the Board, they had the opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns and offer feedback on the information that we presented.

•   Our next meeting to bargain the impacts with CT, will take place at the beginning of next week, October 12.

What else to know:

•   As of today, CT has the forms available for the two exemption options: medical and religious. These are the two protected status exemptions. There is no exemption for philosophical objectors.

•   Our attorneys have reviewed the forms and found that they are acceptable to gain only the information needed to make a determination on granting exemptions.  It will be the                  responsibility of the person who is applying for the exemption to get the form, fill it out                  and turn it in by the deadline. 

•   Accommodation is a two step process: If the exemption is approved, the next step is for CT to determine what can be approved in terms of a reasonable accommodation.  Being granted an exemption does not mean that an accommodation will automatically be granted as well. Members will only need to turn in one form: the Exemption form members fill out will also be used to determine accommodation.

•   Our position is that workers in all classifications can and should be accommodated, such as with weekly testing, as a continued option to remain actively employed.  We are working with our attorneys to craft a proposal on job protections for members who are impacted by this mandate.

This union takes our duty to advocate and fight for the rights of all our members extremely seriously and we want you to know that we are working on this every single day.  We understand the deadline is approaching quickly.  We are working diligently along with our team of experienced labor attorneys to obtain job protections to the fullest extent available to us. 

We will provide additional updates and more specifics as soon as we have more progress to share.

In solidarity and on behalf of your leadership,

Kathleen Custer, President; B.A.                                  Danielle Julien, VIce President, Asst. B.A.