Essentia flu shot mandate challenged
A union that represents some employees is asking a federal court to block Essentia Health from requiring its workers to get flu shots until a labor grievance is resolved. "The union is not understanding why there would need to be this across-the-...
A union that represents some employees is asking a federal court to block Essentia Health from requiring its workers to get flu shots until a labor grievance is resolved.
"The union is not understanding why there would need to be this across-the-board mandatory requirement," said Justin D. Cummins, a Minneapolis attorney representing United Steelworkers Locals 9460 and 9349 in the action filed on Friday in U.S. District Court.
The union represents about 2,000 employees across the Essentia system, Cummins said.
No hearing date has been set.
According to a motion for an expedited preliminary injunction filed on Tuesday, Essentia informed the union in early September that the flu vaccination would be mandatory for all employees this year. Health system officials met with union representatives on Sept. 11 and informed them vaccination would be a "condition of employment" except for those who could obtain religious or medical exemptions, the motion contends.
The union argued the vaccinations should be voluntary and, after failing to convince Essentia to extend a Nov. 10 deadline, filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, according to the motion.
The union is asking the federal court to prevent Essentia from implementing the policy until the grievance has run its course, Cummins said.
Some employees have concerns about the vaccination that aren't covered by the exemptions, he said. Moreover, Essentia hasn't shown willingness to consider alternatives, such as having employees who have contact with patients wear facemasks. Also, many of the union employees work off site or at home yet still would be required to get flu vaccinations under the policy, he said.
The flu shot doesn't even always work, he added.
"The vaccination we're talking about here is not ... the most effective," Cummins said. "You can get the flu shot; it doesn't mean that you're not going to get the flu."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, getting a flu shot reduces the likelihood of contracting influenza by between 40 and 60 percent.
But 40 to 60 percent "is still better than zero percent," said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Essentia Health's patient quality and safety officer.
Essentia Health doesn't comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said.
But Prabhu, who also is an infectious disease doctor, continued to defend the policy.
Although mandatory flu shots for health system employees would be new to Essentia's Minnesota properties, it's a common requirement in some other states, Prabhu said. In those states, as many as 95 percent or more of health workers get vaccinated. In Minnesota, it's 81.4 percent. That ranks the state 44th in the country in flu shots for health workers, according to the CDC.
"People, when they first look at that number they say, 'That's not too bad,' " Prabhu said. "But then you look at what the high performers are - 97 percent."
Rick Fuentes, spokesman for the Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents many Essentia employees, said the MNA hadn't taken similar action to the Steelworkers.
"We're scheduled to negotiate on Nov. 7," Fuentes said. "We have to trust that the employer will sit down with us."
If not, Fuentes said, the MNA has "legal remedies."