‘We can’t ensure your employment’: Tennessee labor union president reacts to vaccine mandate for federal employees

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — Hundreds of federal employees or contractors in East Tennessee will be required to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, thanks to an executive order from President Biden that was announced Thursday.

The Metal Trades Department is a labor union, which has anywhere from 700 to 1,000 members working in East Tennessee at places such as Y-12 and ORNL. Jimmy Hart, the president of the union, said the vaccine should be considered a benefit to workers since it would keep them from getting sick and having to miss a shift.

He said in his lifetime, out of all the financial or policy issues, he’s never seen something hurt the economy so badly like the pandemic.

“This is a financial impact. If you hurt the economy, you’re hurting the American worker. If you hurt the worker, you hurt the economy,” Hart said.

He said now that the vaccine is FDA approved and proven effective, it’s clear it will help keep union workers safe, and that’s the whole goal of the labor union.

“We recommend that you get vaccinated, but we also understand that you have a right not to be,” Hart said.

Hart said with any executive order impacting union members, the union leaders work out a deal with government or business leaders. That’s part of their job as a union to make sure their members are being treated fairly.

However, when it comes to mandates, there’s only so much they can do in order to help protect their livelihoods.

“We can’t ensure your employment if the federal government mandates it. The same way that you cannot fly in an airplane today and go into an airport without a mask. It’s their province. It’s their right,” Hart said.

However, they can help ensure those with medical or religious exemptions are still employed, even with a mandate in place. Hart said there are so many reasons as to why his members should want to get the vaccine, and it not be forced on them.

Being part of the Department of Energy, Hart said his workers’ roles are important to keep this country safe and free. He said getting the vaccine is worth keeping the world go round.

“Our goal is to keep people out of the hospital, our goal is to protect our jobs, our livelihood. It’s a small price to pay to take a vaccination and to wear a mask,” Hart said.

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