Federal workers’ unions have questions about Biden’s new vaccination plans

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of federal workers — including many in Maryland — said Thursday that they back nationwide vaccination efforts to slow COVID-19, but stopped short of endorsing President Biden’s new plan to compel government employees and contractors to get the shots.

Several labor leaders said it would be premature to endorse Biden’s approach before they can bargain with employers over how it will be implemented. One large labor group — the National Treasury Employees Union — said the president’s plan raised concerns about how employees’ rights and privacy would be protected.


“We support efforts to increase the number of people vaccinated, including our members, but these efforts should not supersede the rights of labor unions to bargain work conditions, and employers’ obligations to bargain the details of these policies,” said Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, a union representing more than 175,000 cleaners, security officers and other workers, including 20,000 in the Washington-Baltimore region.

Maryland ranks behind only California and Virginia in its number of federal employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management. About 145,000 federal jobs are based in Maryland, and many more state residents commute to U.S. government or federal contractor positions in Washington.


More than 4 million people are employed by the federal government.

Biden announced Thursday that federal employees and onsite contractors must disclose their vaccination status. Those who don’t will be required to wear masks, be tested once or twice a week and potentially have their travel restricted.

“We are not fully out of the woods yet,” Biden said at the White House. “We can do this. We all just have to do our part.”

Biden announced other initiatives, including broadening paid leave to get families and kids vaccinated.

He said he is asking state and local governments to further incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to those who get vaccinated. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, did not return messages seeking comment late Thursday.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said he was “glad to see the Biden administration encourage states to take steps to further incentivize folks to get vaccinated. We know this is our best defense against the virus, and the best way to support our families, friends, and communities.”

Coronavirus numbers have been surging nationally, driven by the particularly infectious delta variant.

Federal employee unions have generally been supportive of vaccination efforts. But Biden’s plans presented some new wrinkles.

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics


Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

The treasury employees’ union represents 150,000 federal workers, including many in the Baltimore-based Social Security Administration.

Tony Reardon, its national president, said Thursday that it is “deeply concerned about the rising COVID infection rates and all along has encouraged the employees we represent to get vaccinated” to protect themselves and others.

“Still,” Reardon continued, “we have a lot of questions about how this policy will be implemented and how employee rights and privacy will be protected.”

The questions include how the disclosure of employees’ vaccination status will be conducted, and whether current telework policies will be continued.

“Telework has helped keep them safe and on the job,” Reardon said.

Several Maryland lawmakers said Biden’s plan was appropriate given the climbing infection rates and pockets of vaccine resistance.


“Federal employees and contractors continue to be on the front lines of this pandemic and deserve a safe workplace,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, the Maryland Democrat. “As the nation’s single largest employer, the federal government should set the standard for making the workplace safe for everyone so that workers can continue to meet their missions for the American people.”