Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pushed back the deadline for prison guards and some other state workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
All state workers in congregate facilities such as prisons were initially required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4. They now have until Nov. 30 after the latest delay and must get their first dose by Oct. 26 if they’re receiving a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
“This allows the unions time to communicate the agreement to their members and workers to have time to get their shots. We are working diligently to reach agreement with the remaining two unions,” a spokesperson for Pritzker, a first-term Democrat, told news outlets.
The agreement was reached with the Illinois Nurses Association, the Illinois Federation of Public Employees, VR-704, and the Trades Coalition. Negotiations are continuing with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 (AFSCME) and Teamsters Local 700.
Representatives for the unions didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Pritzker announced in August that state workers in congregate settings would have to get vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19. Later that month, he said all health care workers must get vaccinated and extended the order to personnel at K–12 schools and higher education settings.
Religious and medical exemptions are being granted, but workers who get exemptions must be tested at least once per week.
“We are running out of time, as our hospitals run out of beds. Vaccination remains our strongest tool to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to restore post-pandemic life to our communities, and most crucially, to maintain our health care system’s ability to care for anyone who walks through their doors in need of help—and Illinois is taking action to keep our communities safe,” Pritzker said at the time.
Just 3 percent of intensive care unit beds were open in Southern Illinois on Aug. 26.
But the hospitalization crisis has since eased. Statewide, more than 6,700 beds, or 21 percent, were available as of Oct. 14, the most recent date for which statistics were available. Additionally, 17 percent of ICU beds were open.
Unions have pushed back on the vaccine mandate.
In an earlier letter, AFSCME Council 31 told members that employers have the right to mandate vaccines, but it was negotiating over the effect and implementation of the order.
The union’s team told state officials that there were “more flexible forms of vaccination programs in place” in other states and “expressed serious concern that if a significant number of employees are discharged as a result of this plan, understaffing in these agencies—which are finding it increasingly difficult to hire new employees—would be greatly exacerbated and overtime pressures on the remaining employees would grow.”