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Lamont to unions: Broader vaccine requirements may be coming

Gov. Ned Lamont recently warned labor unions that he’s weighing a vaccination requirement for state employees. 

But the governor, who acknowledged such a move couldn’t be made without collective bargaining, also said the administration is still researching options and hasn’t settled upon a new direction yet. 

“It’s not needed if everybody would just voluntarily go get vaccinated,” Lamont said while discussing vaccine issues with reporters following an unrelated bill-signing event at the U.S. Naval Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton. “But we still have certain, you know, groups within state employ where you have 45% of the people unvaccinated. And some of them are very forward-facing, dealing with patients that are special needs” or Department of Correction inmates. 

Lamont and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition [SEBAC] signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2020 that acknowledged the governor’s authority to mandate regular COVID-19 testing in five departments and agencies with “direct care/custody responsibilities.” 

A new administration proposal to broaden this agreement could take several forms, including requiring vaccination for all workers, Lamont said. 

Another potential scenario includes a broad vaccination requirement with exceptions for workers who agree to regular testing and/or mask use. 

SEBAC issued a statement last week indicating that while formal negotiations on any changes to last summer’s memorandum had not begun, “We look forward to carefully considering any proposal that is designed to enhance the safety of both state workers and the public they serve while ensuring a fair and effective system.” 

Lamont acknowledged Connecticut is keeping a close eye on New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has established a vaccination policy for state workers. The New York Times reported Monday that Cuomo extended that policy to include Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff.

Connecticut has done better than most other states, getting about 60% of its overall population vaccinated, and there still is no vaccine for children younger than 12. 

Still, Lamont has expressed concerns as vaccinations have lagged in some areas and the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has pushed infection rates upward slightly this summer. 

The administration reported Monday that 3.18% or 1,245 out of 39,189 coronavirus tests processed over the weekend came back positive.

The Department of Public Health issued alerts over the weekend moving Middlesex, Fairfield, Tolland and Windham counties into the “substantial transmission” category. Hartford, New Haven and New London counties already were part of this group. 

That means anyone who lives, works or travels through these counties should wear a mask when in a public, indoor space. 

And while Lamont has said he anticipates Connecticut’s public schools will open at the end of August for in-person learning, he has not said what requirements regarding mask use or other safeguards might be imposed. 

The governor said Monday only that he hasn’t reached any conclusions in this area yet but expects to announce procedures and rules about two weeks prior to the start of classes.

Also Monday, Lamont announced his administration and SEBAC had reached a deal on a revised telework policy.

Lamont had directed all Executive Branch employees who could work from home to do so shortly after the coronavirus struck Connecticut in March 2020. As vaccine distribution began to accelerate this past April and May, more employees began transitioning back to their respective offices. Lamont issued an email on May 13 directing most employees to return to their pre-pandemic work arrangements.

Monday's agreement attempts to resolve disputes and clarify the role of telework going forward.

It grants workers who had been teleworking prior to Lamont's May 13 email to work remotely until Oct. 2 and prepare for a return to their state office after that.

This option does not apply to hazardous-duty employees and others whose in-person presence is deemed necessary to complete all duties.

Between Oct. 2 and Dec . 31, employees can request to telework for some or all of their weekly hours.

All requests to telework for 50% or less of scheduled work hours will be granted. Those involving more will depend on whether managers determine these arrangements are feasible.

Employees with "COVID-fragile" medical conditions may telework up to 100% of their hours.

 

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