Monday, November 29, 2021
Nov. 29, 2021

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In Our View: Workers who refuse vaccine are not victims

The Columbian
Published:

Although Washington’s highest-paid state employee lost his job for refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate, most public employees apparently met the deadline.

Nick Rolovich, who was in his second season as football coach at Washington State University, was fired Monday for not complying with a mandate that state employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Rolovich had an annual salary of approximately $3 million for a contract that ran through 2025; school officials say he will not receive a $3.6 million buyout specified in the contract because he was fired for cause.

Four WSU assistant coaches also were let go for not complying with the mandate. Gov. Jay Inslee had set Oct. 18 as a deadline for state employees to be fully vaccinated, meaning that workers would have to receive their final shot by Oct. 4. Medical and religious exemptions were allowed.

Rolovich’s refusal to be vaccinated has been a topic of speculation for months. And while a controversy involving a high-profile employee is certain to draw attention, by many measures the mandate has had the desired effect.

The Washington Department of Corrections, which oversees the state’s 12 prisons, verified this month that 89 percent of workers had been vaccinated. A few weeks prior, according to The Seattle Times, individual prisons had reported vaccination rates as low as 39 percent.

Other large state agencies saw similar results. Social and Health Services reported a compliance rate of 91 percent, the Department of Transportation was at 93 percent, and the Washington State Patrol was at 93 percent. It was not clear how many employees had been granted exemptions and how many were refusing the vaccines.

The numbers dispel the notion that vaccine mandates would lead to a mass exodus of state workers and paralyze government services. They also provide hope that progress will continue to be made toward ending the pandemic.

Since the outbreak of the disease in March 2020, Washington has consistently ranked among the states with the fewest COVID cases and deaths per capita. Still, the state has confirmed about 700,000 cases, and more than 8,300 deaths have been attributed to coronavirus.

Inslee’s mandate has generated defiance. But on Monday, a Thurston County Superior Court judge upheld the order, ruling that “because the governor had the legal authority under the powers granted to the governor … even if the individual plaintiffs show individual instances in which the proclamation and resulting actions may be unjust, the plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that it is unjust in all applications.”

That helps illuminate arguments for and against the mandate. As sports columnist Jon Wilner wrote about the Rolovich situation: “Washington State did not fire Nick Rolovich on Monday. The school was merely the vessel of dismissal, carrying out a state mandate designed to save lives and contain a pandemic. In reality, Rolovich fired Rolovich. He alone is responsible for his termination.”

The same can be said about other workers who refused a legal mandate. Employment comes with myriad caveats, and those protecting the health of the public and the health of co-workers are among the most important.

Employees who decline vaccines are well within their rights. But the courts have confirmed that employers are within their rights to make vaccines a condition of employment. Workers who have lost their jobs weighed the options and made their choice; they are not victims of an oppressive government.

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