“Gresham of 1199 says that the union’s members are overwhelmingly against mandatory vaccination, even if they have taken shots themselves. “
Earlier this month, NewYork-Presbyterian became the first hospital system in the state to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s a step that a growing number of hospitals across the country are taking, but one that 1199SEIU, the largest health care union in the country, is prepared to fight.
“Whether there is a legal challenge that we can make, or whether it’s just a pure organizational challenge that we can make, we are not going to just give in,” George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, told WNYC/Gothamist. The union is headquartered in New York City but represents health care workers throughout the state and in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and Washington, D.C.
Gresham emphasized that he got vaccinated and has encouraged all union members to do so, but that he believes medical workers “have the right to make their decision about their own health.” Gresham said union delegates met with Dr. Steve Corwin, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian, to express their concerns last week.
Another health care union, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), has voiced opposition to mandatory vaccination, although it did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Likewise, when WNYC/Gothamist contacted NewYork-Presbyterian to respond to the unions’ stances, it pointed to a memo sent to staff on June 11th. The memo says all employees must take at least one COVID-19 shot by September 1st to keep their jobs. Those seeking a medical or religious exemption must apply for one by August 1st. About 70% of staff at NewYork-Presbyterian have been vaccinated so far.
“The stakes in this matter are high, and the evidence is clear that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the most important and responsible action we can take as NYP team members for the safety and well-being of our patients and visitors, our communities, and ourselves,” read the memo, signed by Dr. Corwin and Dr. Laura Forese, chief operating officer at NewYork-Presbyterian.