On May 21, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries released updated guidance that will, in part, require employers to confirm whether or not employees are fully vaccinated.
For more than a year now, business owners have complied with every mandate and restriction placed on them. They’ve jumped through every hoop, even as they’ve suffered deep financial losses and wondered if their business would survive.
To now require them to track the vaccination status of employees is another step too far. It is government overreach disguised as public safety, designed to maintain control.
We recently reached out to a number of business owners to get their thoughts on this new mandate. Not one expressed support for it. Instead, we heard concerns about the adversarial relationship it could create with their employees. And more than one business owner wondered what could possibly be asked of them next.
Washington’s employers should have the ability to end mask and social distancing requirements on their own terms, not after they’ve created a log of vaccinated workers for the government to review. The decision to get vaccinated is a complex and deeply personal one, and none of the government’s business. It certainly shouldn’t have any bearing on whether or not an employee can do their job safely, especially in industries where social distancing is already the norm.
This one-size-fits-all approach from L&I is deeply misguided and demonstrates why we worked so hard during this year’s legislative session to pass emergency powers reform. Had we done so at any point during the 105 days we met, the six of us and our 141 colleagues in the Legislature would currently have a role to play during this ongoing state of emergency. Your voice would not only be heard, but represented in conversations about our state’s reopening.
Instead, the governor continues to have unilateral authority to do whatever he sees fit. Working in concert with the state agencies he oversees, he continues to move the goalposts. Metrics that are critical one day don’t matter the next. A county’s imminent move back to Phase 2 is suddenly canceled and replaced with an alternative plan. June 30 is established as the state’s reopening date, yet a new mandate is placed on businesses with no end date in sight.
Washingtonians were never meant to be governed this way, and don’t want to be. They want their lives to get back to normal. They look at other states fully reopening and wonder why we’re not moving at the same pace.
In an editorial published earlier this year, this newspaper wrote: “…the thought of giving a governor indefinite emergency powers is disturbing, and it belies the notion of representative government. The public – through their elected legislators – should have a say in the state’s continuing response to the pandemic. It also should have a say in any future emergencies, once the initial shock has subsided.”
We couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until our next session for another attempt at passing emergency powers reform.
What shouldn’t wait a moment longer, however, is a decision by L&I to rescind this mandate and remove all other burdens keeping Washington’s economic engine from running the way it should. It’s time for the agency and the governor to trust Washington’s business owners to keep employees and customers safe.
Sen. Lynda Wilson and Reps. Paul Harris and Vicki Kraft represent the 17th Legislative District. Sen. Ann Rivers and Reps. Brandon Vick and Larry Hoff represent the 18th Legislative District.