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Rather than get vaccine, nearly 1,900 state workers lose jobs

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Exactly how many people will be out of work for ignoring Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate isn’t known yet.

But it became a lot clearer Tuesday (Oct. 19), as details emerged about 1,887 workers who quit or were terminated by the Oct. 18 deadline. Tens of thousands of workers in the state needed to prove they were vaccinated against COVID-19, or had a valid reason for an exemption, to keep their jobs.

Overall, 1,696 employees were fired, with 112 choosing to resign and 79 to retire, according to figures released by the Office of Financial Management. Those totals will rise as another 2,887 people are in the process of getting vaccinated, retiring, seeking accommodation or facing termination.

As of Oct. 18, a quarter of those who were fired or quit — 462 people — worked in the state Department of Transportation, the report shows. The figure includes an exodus of 129 from the Washington State Ferries, where leaders already had to slash service on major routes including Mukilteo-Clinton and Edmonds-Kingston because of staffing shortages.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Patrol shed 127 employees, roughly 6% of the agency’s 2,200 workers statewide. Among the toll were 74 commissioned officers: 67 troopers, six sergeants and one captain. Also let go were 53 civil servants.

Another 15 employees resigned and 17 retired, pushing the total of mandate-driven departures to 159.

“We will miss every one of them,” Chief John Batiste said in a statement.

Departures of commissioned officers occurred in each of the state patrol’s eight divisions. Hardest hit was Division 5 in southwest Washington, which lost 14. Division 1, including Thurston and Pierce counties, lost 11. Divisions serving Eastern Washington and Olympic Peninsula communities each lost 10, as did Division 7, which covers Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

In the coming days, resources and staffing will be moved among divisions where necessary, according to the statement.

At the Monroe Correctional Complex, 54 people were fired, the highest total for any of the state’s prisons. Washington State Penitentiary recorded 52 terminations. Overall, the Department of Corrections let go 410 people due to the mandate, or nearly 5% of employees, according to the OFM data.

At the Department of Social and Health Services, 269 employees lost their jobs and another 42 resigned or retired. That’s nearly 2% of its 15,670-person workforce. It is the largest of the executive branch agencies covered by the mandate. As of Tuesday, its vaccination rate was 92%, with another 3% working with an exemption and accommodation.

No major impacts are foreseen at the Department of Licensing, where 49 of its 1,303 employees are gone for not meeting the mandate, or retiring, or resigning. As of Oct. 19, the agency’s vaccination rate was 92.3%.

Inslee issued the vaccine mandate for state employees and health care workers on Aug. 9, then expanded it to include employees of schools and colleges the following week.

The directive covers roughly 61,000 employees of two dozen state agencies in the executive branch. These include the departments of corrections, transportation and social and health services, as well as the Washington State Patrol. Vaccination is also now a requirement for any contractor wanting to do work with the state. As of Tuesday, 92% of those workers were in compliance.

The mandate also covers an estimated 400,000 health care workers, 155,000 in public and private schools, 118,000 in childcare and early learning, and 90,000 in higher education.

It is among the strictest worker mandates in the nation, in part because it does not provide an option for covered workers to get COVID tests regularly in lieu of getting the jab. Workers can obtain an exemption for religious beliefs or medical reasons, but they will also need a job accommodation to remain employed.

Amid rising vaccination rates, Inslee has forecasted no major interruptions to government operations.

“I am confident that state services, health care and educational instruction and services will continue with minimal disruption,” Inslee said in a written statement.

Opponents of the mandate have staged protests, and public sector employees filed lawsuits in state and federal court. On Monday, a Thurston County Superior Court judge denied their request for an injunction to block the mandate from taking effect.

As of this week, more than 78% of people age 12 and older have at least one vaccine shot in Washington state and 72% are fully vaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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