Port Commissioners react to mandatory vaccination requirement

“It’s a freedom of choice issue,” says Commissioner Bill McGregor

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In a statement, Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor said, “I am opposed to be mandated to do something. It’s a freedom of choice issue,” in reaction to a proposed resolution for mandatory vaccination for all Port employees.

During its regular commission meeting yesterday, Mon., Sept. 27, Port of Olympia General Counsel VaLiesha Brown introduced a resolution for a mandatory vaccination requirement. Previously, the Port passed a resolution that provides employees with an option to either get a coronavirus vaccine or submit to weekly testing. However, Brown said that the new resolution, if passed, would not provide a weekly testing option unless the staff member provides a valid religious or medical reason for exemption.

Brown explained that the requirement is a part of the “duty of every employer to protect the health and safety of its employees by establishing and maintaining a healthy and safe work environment and requiring all employees to comply with the health and safety measures.”

The resolution is in line with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s declaration for mandatory vaccination which requires port personnel, contractors, and subcontractors provide proof of vaccination. Brown shared that if the Port refuses to abide by the Governor’s order, it will risk losing four leases that it have with the state, which would cost an estimated loss of $306,000. 

McGregor, whose term is ending this year and who is not seeking re-election to the seat he has held since 2006, said he believed that just like flu shots, employees should have the right to elect whether or not they wanted to get vaccinated. He also recognized that “I really object to being mandated to do that. But, on either hand, we have revenue losses sustained by the Port because we refuse to stand in line and follow the directory.” McGregor felt that “we are being pushed to a corner.”

Commissioner E.J Zita weighed in on the matter. She shared that the risks of being unvaccinated are more grave than being unvaccinated. “Vaccines work,” she said. Zita also responded to McGregor’s statement that the resolution is a freedom of choice issue. “When your freedom of choice endangers vulnerable people, you have to weigh the costs and benefits. And the Port’s doing the right thing.”

Commission Chair Joe Downing also apologized for the sudden changes in Port policies, “I am sorry we are changing, potentially changing these resolutions.” Downing also appealed to the staff, “I ask you, port employees, what is the endgame for being weekly tested?” He added, “I wanted to be sympathetic to people’s beliefs, and we need you, we need all of you,” the chair concluded. 

The Port Commissioners approved the resolution, with McGregor voting yes in protest. Currently, employees have until October 6 to comply with the requirement, although Brown assured that the Port could provide considerations for those who are planning to get vaccinated or are yet to get their second dose.

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