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Union activists speak out about vaccine mandates

Yahoo Finance's Max Zahn talks about the differing views among union activists on businesses mandating vaccines.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, the pandemic is putting unions-- or placing unions in a new role, that of negotiating vaccine mandates for their employees. And as we see those discussions evolve, that is complicating relationships between companies and those union reps. For more on that, let's bring in Yahoo Finance's Max Zahn, who has a story out on Yahoo Finance today.

And, Max, you've highlighted that whether it is Disney or Tyson Foods in discussions around vaccine mandates, unions have had to take a central role. And that's kind of exposed this divide that exists on where some of these people stand.

MAX ZAHN: Yes, absolutely, Akiko. An expert told me that this is the most complex issue that's faced unions in her lifetime. And that's because it gets at this fundamental tension. For centuries, unions have advocated for safe and secure workplaces. And in that sense, they're playing that role again here. But just as we've seen nationwide, a lot of workers at these employers that have unions are reluctant to get the vaccine. They want their unions to go to bat for them in those negotiations.

Now, what we know for sure is that employers have the right to impose these mandates. But unions can bargain and they have bargained about the details of their implementation. You mentioned a couple of those private sector companies that have reached deals with unions. They're offering extra paid time off. They're allowing for exemptions for workers, whether they have medical conditions or they have religious beliefs that preclude them from getting these vaccines.

So what unions have done is they've said, listen, we can't fight the mandate itself. But what we can do is make sure, as much as possible, we serve our members and some members who are reluctant by getting these concessions from employers. And we've seen it in the public sector too, and especially led by teachers unions as school comes back here in the fall. They've taken that same approach of supporting these vaccine mandates with full force but saying, we want our locals and we instruct our locals to negotiate details that they're comfortable with with local school districts.

But as you mentioned the divide, there are some unions that have come out saying, we fully oppose these mandates and we're not making concessions that these other unions are. We've seen that with first responder unions, whether it's firefighters or police officers across the country. And some of that tension really comes down to where membership stands on these vaccines.

We have teachers unions full of workers who are probably more likely to be supportive of the vaccine and willing to get it regardless of what the union says. But in some of these other workforces where maybe you have an ideological divide that's come up with the politicization of this vaccine, unions have said if our membership doesn't want it, then we don't want it either.

ZACK GUZMAN: And we've seen President Biden talking about federal workers and kind of leaving that testing option on the table-- not so anymore, really leaning into required and mandated vaccines for federal workers. So we'll see what happens as the unions continue to try and represent their workers interests. But Max Zahn bringing us the latest there, appreciate that.