2nd union resists Essentia Health's mandatory flu shot policy

Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health is facing additional pushback regarding its mandatory flu shot policy.

The pushback comes from the Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents 2,000 of the health system's nurses. In a statement to Becker's, the MNA said it filed federal unfair labor practice charges against Essentia Nov. 2 "for ignoring our union's upcoming negotiations and continuing to threaten nurses with termination if they do not receive the flu immunization." The union claims Essentia had promised it would hold off on policy enforcement until the completion of negotiations but did not do so.

"Essentia's drastic change in its position is duplicitous, disappointing and wrong," the MNA added.

Still, union officials said the MNA negotiating committee met Tuesday to negotiate with Essentia in good faith despite the "bullying behavior." However, the union claims Essentia would not negotiate over the policy.

This is not the first time a union has come out against the policy. Last month, the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, which represents some Essentia industrial and service workers, filed for an injunction in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, seeking to stop implementation of the policy. As of Tuesday, a settlement in that case had not been reached, according to the Duluth News Tribune, which cites court documents.

Rajesh Prabhu, MD, infectious disease and chief quality and safety officer for Essentia, declined to comment on ongoing legal proceedings or negotiation discussions.

However, he did tell Becker's via email, "Essentia Health cares for vulnerable patients every day. Immunization significantly minimizes the risk of patients contracting influenza while under our care. What most people don't know is that one can spread the flu even with minimal to no signs of illness. To protect our patients, all of Essentia colleagues, volunteers, students and vendors are required to get a flu shot or receive an exemption."

Dr. Prabhu added that as of this morning, more than 92 percent of Essentia employees have received the flu shot or were approved for an exemption.

The Minnesota Department of Health does not have a formal position on the policy, according to the Duluth News Tribune. Overall, the CDC recommends "everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season."


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