Update on Vaccine Policy
Late last week, JCAU Council and CWA 1036 jointly filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge as well as a petition for immediate restraints with the Public Employment Relations Commission to challenge the Judiciary’s recently announced vaccine and testing policy. While the immediate restraints were denied, the underlying ULP is moving forward. The ULP is based on the near-immediate imposition of the policy without impact negotiations with the Unions. The Unfair Practice process is underway and procedural steps are scheduled over the next 2-3 weeks. We will keep members updated on any developments.
Yesterday a similar vaccination and testing policy was announced for the State executive branch which requires proof of vaccination or proof of weekly testing. In stark contrast to the Judiciary’s unilateral actions, the State announcement is handling the situation correctly with a reasonable delay in implementation, and recognizing the obligation (and benefits) of bargaining with the Unions. This reasonable, good-faith approach is precisely what was missing from the Judiciary’s approach.
To be clear, JCAU supports vaccination for all our members who are able to do so. The FDA has granted permanent approval to the Pfizer version and additional permanent approvals are coming. Vaccination has been proven to be one of the safest and most effective way to keep yourselves and your co-workers safe during this pandemic. Union solidarity means taking care of ourselves and others in our worksites, and getting the vaccine is one of the clearest ways we can all beat this pandemic.
That said, the Judiciary’s attempt to impose this policy is deeply flawed. The impact of its policy imposes out-of-pocket costs on a large segment of our membership, including those with legitimate medical and religious restrictions that prevented them from being eligible for the vaccine. The immediacy of implementation failed to give people enough time to respond or plan accordingly, including making appointments to get vaccinated or tested in time to comply. Members in the process of getting vaccinated are affected by the policy as well as those not vaccinated. Most importantly, the Judiciary has unilaterally imposed a policy with impacts on membership without first bargaining in good faith. JCAU, along with other Unions representing Judiciary staff, submitted multiple proposals and demands for impact bargaining in response to the Judiciary’s announcement. However, the Judiciary’s immediate implementation failed to provide even an opportunity for good faith bargaining to take place.
No matter what the subject is, the Union will always assert our right to collectively bargain when policies have substantial impacts on our membership. It is our right, and the Judiciary is obligated to participate. Failure to do so, as they have clearly done here, is a violation of the most basic core principles of labor/management relations. We will always stand up for the principle of collective bargaining.
Update on Remote Work and 9/7 Return Date
When the Union first initiated talks with the Judiciary about a permanent remote work policy moving forward, it appeared as though the worst of the pandemic was behind us. Both parties believed that we were talking about a potential employee benefit, post-pandemic. Among our reasons, the Union cited the clear 18-month demonstration that we are more than capable of completing so many tasks remotely, including keeping court events running smoothly.
Unfortunately, the view ahead of 9/7 is less optimistic than it was a few weeks ago. With the spread of the Delta variant, all counties in the state are now either designated high or significant transmission rate by the CDC. While vaccination continues to be effective against the Delta variant, breakthrough cases are becoming more common. Other vaccine-resistant variants are also now present in the US and will likely make their way to New Jersey eventually.
We have made our position to the Judiciary very clear. The Union advocates for a delay in a full staff return to offices and we support continuation of hybrid, reduced onsite presence.
As many of us have no doubt already heard, the State Executive Branch has already done the safe and responsible thing by delaying their 100% return to October 17th. This decision is very recent, so it is too early to say exactly how this will impact what the Judiciary will do. We will keep members advised on steps being taken prior to 9/7.