New AFL-CIO president: 'Everyone should be vaccinated'

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Liz Shuler, the new president of the largest federation of unions in America, said Tuesday that everyone should be vaccinated against COVID-19 and urged AFL-CIO member unions to be a source of "reliable, good information" on vaccines for their members.

Her comments come nearly a week after Ray Curry — the new president of the United Auto Workers, an AFL-CIO member — told reporters the union is advocating for vaccines but thinks they should remain voluntary for workers.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler

"We think everyone should be vaccinated. That's the only way we're going to bring back the economy," Shuler said Tuesday. "I'll be honest with you: Our unions are in different places." 

Shuler said every workplace has its own needs for coronavirus safety, but that labor leaders should have a voice in shaping return-to-work policies and can help convince hesitant members to get a vaccine. 

"That's the central thing that we can bring to the table as the labor movement: We can be the source for reliable, good information even though there's on social media a lot of disinformation," she said. "The labor movement can be the place where union members and workers can actually get trusted information."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine after eight months of issuance under an emergency authorization. The approval paved the way for companies to mandate the vaccine for employees, which President Joe Biden called on them to do last week. 

Multiple major companies followed suit, from Walt Disney World to Goldman Sachs to CVS. Detroit's three major car companies are not among those, with the exception of Ford Motor Co., which mandated vaccines for salaried employees who are required to travel internationally.

UAW President Ray Curry

Curry told reporters last week that the union still supports voluntary vaccination, rather than a vaccine requirement. He added that companies with UAW-represented workers have not reached out about requiring the vaccine for the union's members.

"Our position has been from the onset of the pandemic that we see voluntary efforts when the vaccine was available, and we would encourage our members to get vaccinated," Curry said.

The UAW encourages members to get vaccinated and to consider getting a booster vaccine when appropriate, he said. 

"But our ultimate goal — because of so many different reasons, whether that be religious or whether it be personal preference or medical — is that we would respect the wishes of our membership."

He added that he doesn't expect that to change any time soon: "Until this is actually a national mandate discussion, we do not see a reason that we would be participating beyond voluntary efforts of vaccination."

The UAW is not tracking vaccination rates of its employees or members. Ford is asking employees to voluntarily disclose that information, and General Motors Co. said last week it is requiring disclosure of salaried employees' vaccination status. GM, Ford and Stellantis NV all reinstated mask mandates for U.S. offices and factories in early August, which the UAW said it would enforce.

The U.S. is experiencing a national resurgence in coronavirus cases driven by the delta variant. More than three quarters of beds in intensive care units around the country are full, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

While Michigan's resurgence is smaller than in some states, deaths, hospitalizations and case rates have all increased in the state over the last two weeks. Just over 55% of all Michiganians have been fully vaccinated and around 60% have received at least one dose, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Twitter: @rbeggin