Unionized Employees at AT&T Must Be Vaccinated

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. September 30, 2021
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an AT&T store

​On Sept. 29, AT&T announced that it will extend its COVID-19 vaccination requirement to its unionized employees, mandating full vaccination by Feb. 1, 2022, unless there is an approved accommodation. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Thousands of Employees Affected

AT&T had about 230,000 employees as of Jan. 31, according to its most recent annual report. Thirty-seven percent are unionized. The Communications Workers of America union represents a majority of the company's unionized employees.

(The New York Times)    

No Testing Option

Unlike the Biden administration's expected emergency temporary standard (ETS) for employers with at least 100 employees, AT&T is not offering employees the option to take a weekly test instead of inoculation. The ETS will mandate employers with at least 100 employees to require vaccinations against COVID-19 or weekly testing for employees. AT&T's policy applies to employees in stores and customers' homes, as well as people who are temporarily working from home.

(AP via KOMO News) and (SHRM Online)

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Union Opposition

The American Federation of Government Employees, a 313,000-member union, criticized the administration's additional mandate for federal employees that requires vaccination and does not give a testing option. "Changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate," said Everett Kelley, national president of the organization, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. "We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation." The union membership rate of public-sector workers—34.8 percent—is more than five times the rate of private-sector workers—6.3 percent.

(NBC News) and (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Labor Support

There has been some union support for vaccinations, however. Three of the largest unions at United Airlines—the Association of Flight Attendants, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Teamsters—all issued statements suggesting the unions will accept the company's vaccine mandate. On the other hand, the International Association of Machinists has criticized the mandate and some employees have sued.

(SHRM Online) and (SHRM Online)

Courts Uphold Vaccine Mandates

Thus far, courts have upheld employer vaccine mandates. On June 12, a judge dismissed a lawsuit some workers had filed against hospital system Houston Methodist regarding its vaccine mandate. In August, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of Indiana University's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees and students, leaving in place the rulings of lower courts in favor of the university's requirements. A health care employer in the Cincinnati area lawfully required its employees to get vaccinated or be fired, a federal district court ruled on Sept. 24. Three days later, a federal appeals court ruled in New York City's favor on the vaccine mandate for public-school employees.

(SHRM Online) and (SHRM Online)

Tyson Foods' Unions Agreed to Vaccine Policy

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods Inc. said labor unions had agreed to support its requirement for U.S. employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November.

(Reuters via Yahoo Finance)

Unsure About Getting the Vaccine?

More than 183 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since mid-December last year and no long-term side effects have been detected, said Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate dean of strategy and innovation at the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I. Most side effects to the COVID-19 vaccinations happen days after a person gets vaccinated. "There are some medicines for which side effects won't show up until months or years later because you're taking them every day," she said. With "a vaccine, you inject it, it helps your body create an immune response, and then it's gone from your body. It doesn't continue to change anything."

(Popular Science)

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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