UNM Hospital employees will not have to receive mandatory flu shots — for now.
On Tuesday, the Second District Judicial Court granted a temporary stay of disciplinary action with regard to employees’ complaint about UNMH’s implementation of mandatory flu shots. Under the preliminary injunction, employees cannot be disciplined or terminated for not receiving a flu shot.
The stay will protect employees until the UNM Labor Management Relations Board hearing on Dec. 12.
Bill Browne, administrative director for District 1199 NM, a local union of hospital workers that led the complaint, said he agrees with the court’s decision and hopes the board will support employees’ rights to bargain.
“We think it was the proper thing to do, because, again, we still believe they have to negotiate the terms and conditions,” he said.
“Something like this is a mandatory subject of bargaining.”
Employees were informed of the policy through a memo sent late September, stating they needed to be vaccinated by Dec. 1.
The litigation has been going on for over a month now. District 1199 NM filed the Prohibitive Practices Complaint against UNMH after employees were informed of the policy.
In early November, employees filed a complaint to the labor board about the new mandatory policy, stating that UNMH should have negotiated with employees about the shot because it is a change in their contract. Later that month, UNMH issued a counterstatement to the board upholding the new rule.
This is the first year UNMH has required influenza immunizations.
If the labor board decides to side with UNMH, employees will still have 10 days to become compliant with the policy.
John Arnold, the director of news and multimedia services for UNMH, said the hospital already has a 95 percent flu vaccination rate among employees. He said that in 2012, only 65 percent of employees were vaccinated.
“Our goal remains to be to keep our patients and our employees safe, and we think we’ve achieved that with this high immunization rate,” Arnold said. “That was the goal of the policy, to increase that rate, with our patient safety and our employee safety in mind.”
Browne said the union recognizes the need for vaccinations and is not against them. It just hopes to have more bargaining rights, he said.
“We feel that we have other options that would allow the hospital to proceed with a well thought out flu vaccination program,” Browne said. “(One) that doesn’t infringe on the employees personal belief system and possible health concerns, while still protecting the community and their fellow employees.”
Browne said he wished that UNMH had been more inclusive in its original discussions to make the vaccine mandatory.
“I wish we could avoid all this,” he said. “If they were upfront and honest with the union, we could have worked all these things out.”