UPDATE: 3:44 p.m.
Hawaii’s six public unions issued a joint statement this afternoon in reaction to Gov. David Ige’s plan to impose a vaccine mandate for state and county workers.
The unions are Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, and the United Public Workers.
“We strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as part of our united effort to beat the pandemic and protect our community’s health,” the statement said. “The health and well-being of our public employees, who have been essential during this pandemic, remain our top priority while we continue to keep vital government operations running every day.”
In the joint statement, the union leaders said they were denied after reaching out to Ige’s office to initiate discussions about the vaccine mandate. “We will continue to fight for open discussions about these important decisions that affect public employees, our government operations, and our community,” the news release said.
The statement continued, “The emergency proclamation will impact our members’ working conditions and the employer must bargain those impacts with the appropriate collective bargaining units. Details on how tests will be administered, how results will be kept confidential, and how the state will fund this mandate will need to be negotiated with the state and we look forward to having those discussions right away.”
Gov. David Ige announced today that state and county workers will be required to get the COVID vaccine or undergo regular testing for the virus, a move that comes as the number of coronavirus cases in Hawaii surges to its highest level since the start of the pandemic.
Government workers must show proof of vaccination by Aug. 16 or get tested once a week, Ige said during a press conference.
“The mayors and I agree that this new vaccination and testing policy for the state and county workers will help protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Hawaii,” Ige said. In clarifying the new policy, Ige said that “if someone did not provide or get vaccination, then they could be subject to termination.”
Ige noted that the proclamation also continues the mask mandate for indoor public settings.
Despite the recent increase in cases — Hawaii set a single-day record of 655 new coronavirus cases today — Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said “we have no intention of moving back tiers.”
“We’ll have a conversation tomorrow about the size of gatherings. And we’re going to defer any comments so we all get together with the governor on that,” Blangiardi said.
State health officials for months now have implored residents to get vaccinated, if not for themselves, for the health and safety of the larger community. They’ve even offered incentives, such as a year’s worth of free meals at Zippy’s, free stays at local resorts and cash prizes through statewide sweepstakes. But the state’s pace of vaccination has continued to sputter.
About 60.5% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated and 67.6% of residents have received at least one shot, according to the latest state data. But as the highly contagious delta variant has taken hold in recent weeks, the virus has begun sweeping through pockets of the unvaccinated population, creating more pressure to mandate vaccines in both the public and private sectors.
Hawaii Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said that 95% of the COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized in Hawaii are unvaccinated.
On Monday, four of Hawaii’s major hospital systems, including Hawaii Pacific Health, Kaiser Permanente, The Queen’s Health Systems and Adventist Health Castle, announced that they are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Additional hospitals and healthcare providers are expected to follow.
On Wednesday, the Department of Education said all student-athletes, athletic staff and volunteers will need to be fully vaccinated to participate in athletic activities. And today the Hawaii House of Representatives announced that all members and staff must be fully vaccinated or provide weekly proof of negative test results.
Hawaii’s major public-sector unions plan to hold a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. in response to the governor’s announcement.
Gov. David Ige is scheduled to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. about the latest COVID-19 emergency proclamation.
Also scheduled to attend are Dr. Elizabeth Char, director, Dept. of Health; Mayor Rick Blangiardi, City & County of Honolulu; Mr. Sandy Baz, managing director, Maui County; and Keith Hayashi, interim superintendent, Department of Education.