The American Federation of Government Employees called on the Biden administration to delay the deadline for federal employee vaccination to match that of federal contractors. The union called for the delay in a Nov. 9 letter sent to the heads of the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Under current policy, federal employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, meaning that an employee that has not received the vaccine or applied for an exemption by Nov. 9 can begin to receive adverse actions.

But the White House recently announced it pushed back the deadline for federal contractors to get their employees vaccinated until Jan. 4 in order to make the process easier on such employers.

“This double standard has caused confusion and distress among federal employees due to disparate treatment and incongruent deadlines for people who perform the government’s work in the same settings,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley wrote in the letter.

“It is inexcusable that contractors are being given the entire holiday season to meet the mandates, while federal employees continue to be subject to the November 22 deadline. The effect upon morale of federal employees being subject to possible discipline at this time of year cannot be overstated,” Kelley added.

Kelley also noted that time over the holiday season may convince employees who previously resisted the mandate to “contemplate these important decisions.”

The letter comes as some local units of AFGE protested the fact that their agencies have not yet bargained with union leadership over the enforcement of the mandate, despite the White House instructing agencies to coordinate with collective bargaining units as soon as possible.

Some agencies and unions managed to come to last-minute agreements on how the vaccine mandate’s enforcement will meet collective bargaining contracts, such as at the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal employees working at the EPA and covered by a bargaining unit now have more concrete processes for filing for exemptions from the vaccine mandate, AFGE announced Tuesday.

The EPA council for AFGE said it and agency leaders came to an agreement where the due process provisions outlined in the current master collective bargaining agreement apply to applications for vaccine exemption.

“The Agency may begin to take steps against unvaccinated employees as soon as November 9, so it is important that we moved ahead of that deadline to ensure that our bargaining unit members are afforded the process due them under our Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Joyce Howell, the Council 238 chief negotiator for the future of work negotiations, said in a news release. “The health and safety of our bargaining unit is paramount, and we are happy to know that over 90% of our bargaining unit is fully vaccinated. Nonetheless, we must look out for those among us who have legitimate reasons to receive exceptions to the vaccine mandate.”

The agreement marks a new direction for the EPA and AFGE, as just two years ago, failed negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement caused both sides to accuse each other of bad faith negotiations.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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