Arbitrator strikes down flu vaccine requirement for Allina union workers

Some members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa at Minneapolis-based Allina Health will no longer be subject to a policy change making the flu vaccine a condition of employment, the health system and union confirmed to Becker's.

The July decision, from arbitrator Steven Rutzick, comes after Allina introduced a mandatory flu vaccine policy last year. The policy required all employees to receive the flu vaccine, save for medical and religious exemptions. Previously, employees could decline the vaccine for any reason, said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa. The change making the vaccine a condition of employment was struck down by the arbitrator for some employees covered by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa contracts. 

The union represents about 5,000 workers at Allina. Union members include pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, radiological and surgical technologists, sterile processing technicians, environmental services workers, dietary workers, and cooks and materials handlers. 

These workers will be able to decline the flu vaccine for any reason, although the shot will be highly encouraged by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa and Allina, Mr. Gulley said.

The arbitrator made the decision after considering arguments from both sides. The union argued that the condition of employment provision of the policy "was unreasonable in light of the effectiveness of the vaccine and based on the bargaining history between the parties over the last 15 years on this subject."

Allina argued that requiring workers to get the vaccine against the highly contagious flu is reasonable to protect patients, Mr. Rutzick's decision said, according to the Minnesota Reformer

Although Allina has a compelling reason for implementing the flu vaccine requirement, the health system overreached when it did so without the union's consent, the arbitrator wrote, according to the newspaper.

"We believe the arbitrator got this decision right," Mr. Gulley said. "We will continue to encourage our members to get the vaccine on a voluntary basis."

Allina shared the following statement with Becker's: "Allina Health is reviewing the arbitrator's decision that impacts our mandatory (with limited exemptions) influenza vaccine policy for some employees. As an organization focused on the health of our patients and communities, we believe vaccination is an important tool in preventing illness."

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