Health unions sue over mandated flu shots

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Already a source of conflict between some hospitals and unions, the issue of mandatory flu vaccines for healthcare workers is once again the subject of a federal lawsuit.

A healthcare worker union on Thursday filed suit against the Rhode Island Health Department to prevent it from implementing new state regulations that would require workers receive flu vaccination or wear masks during patient contact, the Providence Journal reported. The SEIU Healthcare Employees Union, District 1199, said there's no medical evidence that vaccination or wearing masks inhibits transmission and that it violates the union's right to bargain on these issues.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, found that higher vaccination rates translate to lower infection rates, the Chicago Tribune reported.

For Carrie Calhoun, a nurse at Alexian Brothers Health System in Illinois, whether the flu vaccine is effective is beside the point, she told the newspaper. Alexian requires all employees get flu shots or get fired, with a few exceptions, such as allergies to eggs or religious beliefs, which must be verified through documentation.

Calhoun said it's a matter of personal choice, arguing that patients have a right to refuse any medical treatment but that the health system does not afford a health worker the same right. Such rules mean workers either simply give in or falsify documents, Calhoun said.

New York was the first state to mandate flu shots for all health workers in 2009, during the H1N1 outbreak. Unions fought the issue in court, and the state relaxed the rule, the Chicago Tribune noted. Unions in Washington state also won in federal court, in which hospitals must make the issue of flu shots part of collective bargaining.

For more information:
- here's the Providence Journal article
- see the Chicago Tribune article

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