HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — State employees are requesting a 20-day extension of Gov. Ned Lamont’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that allows for a temporary process of testing in lieu of vaccination at some workplaces.
The compliance deadline is currently Monday at 11:59 p.m. AFT Connecticut put out a press release Friday, saying that strict implementation of his executive order could trigger harmful consequences for workers and those they provide services for.
“As a nurse, I care deeply about the well-being of our patients. We are appalled at Governor Lamont’s failure to take responsibility for staffing shortages accelerated by his administration’s failure to fill critical vacancies,” said Damien Nuzzo, nurse clinical instructor at Connecticut Valley Hospital. “Governor Lamont wants to send replacement workers as substitutes for long-term caregivers who have years of rapport with these clients. This is a blatant abuse of power. That simply won’t work and will place both caregivers and patients in danger.”
On Sept. 22, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) requested a flexible period for compliance after the deadline to allow parties to assess the levels of understaffing and displacement caused by the mandate and make informed decisions about how to cope with this, according to the release.
Though the deadline for compliance was extended to Oct. 4, AFT Connecticut said the state employees represented by unions in SEBAC have not experienced this cooperation from Lamont’s administration.
A warning letter was sent to 8,000 employees, saying if they are not in compliance by Tuesday, they will be on unpaid furlough.
“SEBAC has not agreed to this. We remain strongly opposed to any suggestion that employees who are sent home but subsequently come into compliance would lose their jobs and we will fight to defend employees who do so,” the union said in a statement to News 8.
“Chronic understaffing was already putting patient and caregiver safety at risk long before the pandemic hit,” said Jill Alsgaard, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at UConn Health’s John Dempsey Hospital, in the press release. “Coupled with the expectation of a ‘retirement cliff’ next year, an even larger exodus is coming. The strain of the past 18 months has only made a bad situation worse and, sadly, provided administration an excuse for inaction. I’m about to take on another shift after working 12 hours overnight. I’m willing to do it for my patients and my colleagues, but it’s hardly a sustainable solution.”
The release goes on to say that many workers were placed on the non-compliance list despite attempts to demonstrate compliance with the executive order.
“I’m fully vaxxed and submitted my information months ago. But the state keeps telling me I am not in compliance,” said CSEA President Steve Anderson, an environmental analyst in the Department of Agriculture, in the press release. “The Governor plans to disrupt services and put soldiers to work in state worksites when the real problem is short staffing combined with a poorly executed compliance system.”
Lamont’s office said the negotiations continue.
“If we are unable to reach an agreement with them, that is what will happen as of Tuesday, the employer’s direction gets implemented and if there’s arbitration required, later on, we will address that as needed,” said the Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Josh Geballe.
Executive and judicial branch employees can choose weekly testing over the shot. Those in state hospitals or long-term care facilities who refuse the shot can seek a medical or religious waiver but will still have to test weekly.
WellSpark, the contractor handling all the paperwork, still has not reported how many employees have asked for waivers. The Governor’s office says employees are considered in compliance until the waiver is reviewed.